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    The Question the WSJ Didn’t Ask

    Posted by David Foster on 13th August 2018 (All posts by )

    The Wall Street Journal, on its editorial page, writes about a company called Standard Textile, whose economic viability is apparently being threatened by the 25% tariffs on imports of its main production input:  a type of fabric sourced from China and known as greige, which I believe is basically the fabric as it comes off the loom, unfinished and un-dyed.  The company is especially concerned because finished products from China which compete with its own products are tariffed at only 6.7%.   WSJ uses this example to argue that Trump is all wrong on tariffs, and does so in the rather superior manner (the title of the piece is ‘a looming trade lesson’) which is common among those who ascribe any objections to absolutely free trade as based on nothing but economic ignorance or political demagoguery.

    I will stipulate that it seems rather dumb to tariff raw materials and intermediate goods at a higher level than finished products made from these inputs.  But..is it really true that greige fabrics are available only from China?  A few minutes of searching suggests that they are available from India, and from at least some US suppliers.  Maybe there is some particular variant of the products that is only made by a specific Chinese supplier, or maybe Standard has negotiated such a great deal with their supplier that no one else will match the price–it would be interesting to know.

    The big question that the WSJ didn’t ask is:  Why is this fabric (if it is truly unavailable in the US) not manufactured here?  Textile manufacturing is not generally a labor-intensive activity, it is very different on this measure from the transformation of the textiles into apparel and other finished products.  It was one of the first industrial activities to be mechanized, and automation in this field has advanced steadily over a couple of centuries.  Moreover, textile manufacturing uses significant amounts of power, and I’ve read about Chinese firms that moved to the US specifically because the electricity was cheaper and more reliable.  So the usual arguments about why a particular item needs to be made in China or other non-US setting…labor costs, less-stringent environmental restrictions…don’t seem to really apply here.

    Most likely, greige manufacturers tend to locate in Asia and other non-US locations because that is where their customers are…’customers’ here referring not to end consumers but to apparel manufacturers and others who buy the material as an input to their own processes…and geographical proximity is of value in being able to fill orders rapidly and without excessive shipping costs.  So this is an example of how supply chains are interconnected, and how losing one industry in a chain tends to pull other industries away also.  The same point has also been demonstrated in consumer electronics manufacturing, where the supply chain is now so centered in Asia, especially China, as to make it difficult for a company to produce these products in the US even if they want to.  (And ‘supply chain’ in this sense does not include physical products, it also includes certain services.  I have been told by the CEO of a medical electronics startup that she would find it difficult to manufacture in the US due to absence of certain specialized services; I believe she mentioned RF test facilities)

    A serious analysis of America’s trade situation should involve more than quoting David Ricardo and lecturing people about their supposed economic ignorance.  The WSJ article would have been more intellectually-honest and more useful had it also given examples of American manufacturers who are benefitting from the modified tariffs; these examples certainly exist.

    Best of luck to Standard Textile.  Hopefully, (a) the tariffs, if they remain in place, will be adjusted to level the rate between imported fabric and imported finished goods, and (b) US manufacturers of this fabric will come into being.

    Posted in Business, China, Miscellaneous, Tech, Trump, USA | 14 Comments »

    Are Universities in the Business of Producing Jeongs?

    Posted by David Foster on 8th August 2018 (All posts by )

    Instapundit quotes Jonah Goldberg, writing about Sarah Jeong:

    [Joseph] Schumpeter predicted, before the massive expansion of higher education, that capitalism would breed a new class of intellectuals (writers, journalists, artists, lawyers, etc.) who would be motivated by both ideology and self-interest to undermine liberal democratic capitalism. “Unlike any other type of society, capitalism inevitably and by virtue of the very logic of its civilization creates, educates and subsidizes a vested interest in social unrest,” Schumpeter wrote in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. He adds a bit further on: “For such an atmosphere [of social hostility to capitalism] to develop it is necessary that there be groups whose interest it is to work up and organize resentment, to nurse it, to voice it and to lead it.”

    Sarah Jeong is not the ideal example of what Schumpeter was talking about, viz. capitalism (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez fits that bill better). But she is a good example of the larger adversary culture that universities not only “nudge” students toward, but actively indoctrinate them into. Simply put, there is an entire industry dedicated to the proposition that not just the American past, but the American present, is disordered, bigoted, and oppressive. And Jeong’s meteoric and meritocratic rise demonstrates how so many of our best and brightest have gotten that message. How many have internalized it as ideology or have just cynically decided that’s how you get ahead is an open question.

    …which reminded me of an observation made a long time ago:

    Francis Bacon pointed out four hundred years ago that one reason for sedition and mutiny in any polity was “breeding more scholars than preferment can take off”…

    (Honor: A History, by James Bowman)

    A modern translation of “breeding more scholars than preferment can take off” might be “graduating more PhDs than have any hope of getting tenure.”

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, History, Leftism, USA | 11 Comments »

    CON Does Seem Like an Appropriate Acronym

    Posted by David Foster on 5th August 2018 (All posts by )

    Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia currently impose certificate-of-need (CON) restrictions on the provision of healthcare. These rules require providers to first seek permission before they may open or expand their practices or purchase certain devices or new technologies. The applicant must prove that the community “needs” the new or expanded service, and existing providers are invited to challenge a would-be competitor’s application.

    …from a Mercatus article on healthcare “Certificates of Need”, linked by The Advice Goddess.

    In most other industries, collusion of providers in order to keep supply down–and, hence, prices up–is considered an antitrust violation and can carry heavy civil and criminal penalties.

    Does anyone see any legitimate public-policy rationale for the requirement for the CONs in healthcare?

    Posted in Big Government, Business, Health Care | 20 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Wolf Among Wolves, by Hans Fallada

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd August 2018 (All posts by )

    Hans Fallada’s novel Little Man, What Now?, which I reviewed here, impressed me enough to look up some of  Fallada’s other works.  Wolf Among Wolves, was published later than LMWN, but set in an earlier period: 1923, the time of the great Weimar inflation. It tells the story of a collapsing society through the intertwined lives of many characters, who include:

    Petra Ledig, a sweet-natured girl from a rough background in Berlin, driven into prostitution by financial desperation. On impulse, she asks one of her clients to take her home with him, and he does. That man is…

    Wolfgang Pagel, son of a fairly-well-off but overprotective and controlling mother–the mother being less than thrilled about his relationship with Petra. Wolf supports himself and Petra, in a very marginal way, by working as a professional gambler. One day in Berlin, Wolf meets up again with an old Army acquaintance…

    Joachim von Prackwitz, who everyone calls the Rittmeister (cavalry captain). The Rittmeister married the daughter of a major landowner in East Prussia and is now managing a large farm at Neulohe under lease from his father-in-law, who cannot stand him…indeed, the father-in-law does everything he can to make the Rittmeister’s life miserable, including for example scheming to increase his portion of the electric bill from the estate’s shared diesel generator. (This is surely the only novel I’ve read in which depreciation and cost-allocation calculations come into play.) The Rittmeister was known in the Army as a brave if not terribly bright officer and a good comrade, but he is having great difficulty in dealing with the pressures of his civilian life.

    Eva, the Rittmeister’s well-balanced and long-suffering wife, is losing confidence in her husband and is very worried about the erratic and mysterious behavior of her daughter Violet, an attractive 15-year-old who has developed a passionate and secret crush on…

    The Lieutenant, agent for a group of former military men who are plotting a putsch against the Weimar government

    Mr Studmann, another Army friend of Wolf’s, who has been working as front-desk manager for a hotel. He and Wolf are both invited by the Rittmeister to leave Berlin and come help with the running of the farm. Despite his total lack of agricultural experience, Studmann turns out to be a very effective manager, using the skills he developed at the hotel. Eva is drawn to Studmann, seeing in him the stability and rationality that are absent in her husband–and he is VERY attracted to her.

    Raeder, a young and deeply weird servant who has an unwholesome sexual attraction toward Violet

    One “character” never absent from the story is the mark, the German unit of currency. In fact, the valuation of the mark is mentioned in the very first page of the book:

    This is Berlin, Georgenkirchstrasse, third courtyard, fourth floor, July 1923, at six o’clock in the morning. The dollar stands for the moment at 414,000 marks.

    (By the end of the period covered in the story, the dollar-to-market conversion rate was a trillion to one.)

    A few samples of the writing. Here, a description of Violet’s attraction toward the Lieutenant:

    He was quite different from all the men she had yet known. Even if he were an officer, he in no way resembled the officers of the Reichswehr who had asked her to dance at the balls in Ostade and Frankfurt. The latter had always treated her with extreme courtesy; she was always the “young lady” with whom they chatted airily and politely of hunting, horses, and perhaps of the harvest. In Lieutenant Fritz she had as yet discovered no politeness. He had dawdled through the woods with her, chatting away as if she were some ordinary girl; he had taken her arm and held it, and had let it go again, as if this had been no favor…Just because he thought so little of her, because his visits were so short and irregular, just because all his promises were so unreliable…just because he was never polite to her, she had succumbed to him almost without resistance. He was so different. Mystery and adventure hovered around him…Infinite fire, mysterious adventure, a wonderful darkness, in which one may be naked without shame! Poor Mamma, who has never known this! Poor Papa–so old with your white temples! For me ever new paths, ever different adventures!

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Civil Society, Economics & Finance, Germany, History | 3 Comments »

    On Trusting Experts…and Which Experts to Trust

    Posted by David Foster on 30th July 2018 (All posts by )

    August 1, 1914. As Europe moved inexorably toward catastrophe, Kaiser Wilhelm II was getting cold feet at the prospect of a two-front war. When a telegram arrived suggesting that the war might be contained to a Germany-vs-Russia conflict, the Kaiser jumped at the opportunity.

    The telegram was from Prince Lichnowsky, the German ambassador in London, reporting on a conversation with the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey. As Lichnowsky interpreted Grey’s remarks, England would stay neutral–and also guarantee France’s neutrality–if Germany would confine herself to attacking Russia and would promise not to attack France. (Which was a misinterpretation–but more on that later.)

    Immediately, the Kaiser called in General von Moltke, the Chief of Staff, and gave him his new marching orders: turn around the troops destined for the attack in the west, and redirect them to the eastern front. Barbara Tuchman writes of Moltke’s reaction.

    Aghast at the thought of his marvelous mobilization wrenched into reverse, Moltke refused point-blank. For ten years, first as assistant to Schlieffen, then as his successor, Moltke’s job had been planning for this day, The Day, Der Tag, for which all Germany’s energies were gathered, on which the march to final mastery of Europe would begin. It weighed upon him with an oppressive, almost unbearable responsibility…Now, on the climactic night of August 1, Moltke was in no mood for any more of the Kaiser’s meddling with serious military matters, or with medling of any kind of the fixed arrangements. To turn around the deployment of a million men from west to east at the very moment of departure would have taken a more iron nerve than Moltke disposed of. He saw a vision of the deployment crumbling apart in confusion, supplies here, soldiers there, ammunation lost in the midle, companies without officers, divisions without staffs, and those 11,000 trains, each exquisitely scheduled to click over specified tacks at specified intervals of ten minutes, tangled in a grotesque ruin of the most perfectly planned military movement in history.

    “Your majesty,” Moltke said to him now, “it cannot be done. The deployment of millions cannot be improvised…Those arrangements took a whole year of intricate labor to complete…and once settled, it cannot be altered.”

    “Your uncle would have given me a different answer,” the Kaiser said to him bitterly.

    It was not until after the war that General von Staab–Chief of the Railway Division and the man who would have actually been responsible for the logistics of the redirection–learned about this interchange between Moltke and the Kaiser. Incensed by the implied insult to the capabilities of his bureau, he wrote a book, including pages of detailed charts and graphs, proving that it could have been done.

    So, what happened here? The Kaiser trusted his military expert, von Moltke–but the real expert in railway operations (and this was substantially a railway question)–disagreed. At the time of decision-making, von Staab’s personal opinion was never even solicited.

    Clearly, what the Kaiser should have said when faced with Moltke’s opposition was “Tell von Staab to get his ass in here, and let’s talk about it.” (Or however a German Emperor would have phrased that thought.) Indeed, there was particular reason to do this, given that the Kaiser evidently had some serious concerns about Moltke–as evidenced by his passive-aggressive “your uncle would have given me a different answer” comment.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, Germany, History, Human Behavior, Management, Military Affairs, War and Peace | 17 Comments »

    Rickover

    Posted by David Foster on 26th July 2018 (All posts by )

    Recently watched an excellent documentary on Admiral Hyman Rickover, creator of the nuclear Navy. There’s quite a lot in the documentary that is relevant to today’s issues and concerns, for example:  circa 1972, the CIA had assured the Navy that the top speed of Russian attack subs was about 22 knots.  Rickover suspected that they were wrong, and he directed a carrier which was being shadowed by a Russian sub to gradually increase speed.  When it reached 30 knots, the shadowing sub was still there.

    Which provides one more interesting data point at a time when we are being lectured about the need to treat the conclusions of the “intelligence community” with reverence.

    In a 1974 speech, Rickover told of an ancient people called the Locrians:

    These people gave freedom of speech to all citizens. At public meetings anyone could stand up and argue for changes in law or custom, on one condition. A rope was placed around his neck before he began to speak and, if what he said did not meet with public approval, he was forthwith hanged. That, no doubt, prevented disturbing the even tenor of familiar customs and ways of life.

    I have encountered some in the Navy who look with nostalgia on this ancient custom.  But we must face the stark fact that an uncriticized society cannot long endure.

    Quite a few organizations in America today are following in the footsteps of the Locrians–the universities, especially, but also certain Silicon Valley companies.  And not only them.

    I learned of this documentary about the same time I read about a professor who was disturbed that Hispanic students that she interviewed credited their success to their own hard work and self-reliance rather than to affirmative action.

    Rickover was Jewish, and he entered the Navy at a time when Jews were not common in that service…and the negative attitudes toward Jews which were prevalent in the society at large were also quite common in the Navy, perhaps even stronger there than outside.  (The Academy yearbook pages for both Rickover and the only other Jewish midshipman in his class were conveniently perforated for easy removal.)

    And I wondered:  If Rickover had been influenced by professors and others endlessly and excessively beating the Victimhood drum, would he have been able to achieve the success and the great accomplishments that he did?  Or would he have just folded up and concluded that it was hopeless, that Jews had no chance in the Navy?

    Well, probably not Rickover–he was an extraordinarily tough and resilient man.  But there probably are a lot of people who have high potential, though maybe not on the Rickover level, and who are being inhibited and will be inhibited in achieving that potential due in substantial part to such preaching.

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    Posted in Human Behavior, Immigration, Judaism, Military Affairs, Science, Tech, USA, War and Peace | 10 Comments »

    Rerun: The Dream(liner) and the Nightmare (of Social Toxicity)

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd July 2018 (All posts by )

    The FAA has issued an Emergency Airworthiness Directive against the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The AD requires that the battery system be reviewed and modified as necessary to eliminate the danger of fires such as those that have recently occurred on these aircraft. The changes needed could presumably involve manufacturing processes, sourcing of components, electrical-system design, or some combination of these things.

    The FAA’s action here seems to me like simple and reasonable prudence. It is not uncommon for new aircraft types to encounter problems during their early operational days, and the 787 is an innovative plane in many ways, especially in the use of electrical means to replace functions traditionally done by hydraulic systems and by engine bleed air.  There may well turn out to be simple fixes that can be quickly implemented to resolve the issue; on the other hand it’s possible that the fix will involve signficant redesign and will cost Boeing and the airlines considerable money. Purely as speculation, I’d guess that the worst-case result for the study required by the AD would be the mandated replacement of the plane’s lithium-ion batteries with conventional aircraft batteries, at some sacrifice in the plane’s useful load and some redesign both of the relevant control systems and of some interior spaces.

    But the purpose of this post is not to talk about 787 technical issues, as much fun as that might be.

    After clicking on the Yahoo report about the AD issuance yesterday, I took a look at some of the comments, and a depressing experience it was. Here are some samples:

    Makes you wonder if Boeing did not have the FAA inspectors in their back pocket while certifying this airplane “air worthy”? Maybe a few bucks went along stuffing their respective back pockets as well. Good example of certifying government agencies working too close with the manufacturer.

    For the FAA to say it’s safe and then ground the planes, all credibility and trust in competence is out the window.

    Were they just going to wait until the costs of wrongful death lawsuits surpassed the cost of fixing the problem?

    They do lots of testing but just like windows they release it to the public and then we will fix all bugs in the system

    Parts made in China

    #$%$ batteries made in China and a world-class American airplane manufacturer fell for their cr@p product. Do you think that perhaps Chinese agents were behind deliberately sabotaging our country’s product?

    Dream gone bad. Overseas outscourced components on the cheap, assembled by redneck scabs in South Carolina.

    Just one more example of the FINE work being produced by wonderful, hardworking and dedicated union workers.

    Just more retaliation from Obama for the move to non- union South Carolina.

    no one care anymore all the factory workers just go to work to try to make $$$$$ and this it is hard too the pride in making or to build something does not exist anymore!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Too bad the GOP helped rich buddies ship all the manufacturing jobs to china? Expertise comes with manufacturing. Burger jobs make poor planes?

    Read through several pages of comments like these, and the overwhelming overall impression is one of social toxicity…of people glaring furiously at one another, quick to assume that anything to goes wrong in any aspect of life is due to either malice or incompetence or both. It is a picture of generalized resentment and distrust, coupled with entitled ignorance.

    Read the rest of this entry »

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    Posted in Aviation, Big Government, Civil Society, Human Behavior, Tech, USA | 7 Comments »

    A Jobs-Based Complaint About Technological Change, circa 1850

    Posted by David Foster on 20th July 2018 (All posts by )

    Come all ye bold wagoners turn out man by man
    That’s opposed to the railroad or any such a plan;
    ‘Tis once I made money by driving my team
    But the goods are now hauled on the railroad by steam.
     
    May the devil get the fellow that invented the plan.
    It’ll ruin us poor wag’ners and every other man.
    IL spoils our plantations wherever it may cross,
    And it ruins our markets, so we can’t sell a hoss.
     
    If we go to Philadelphia, inquiring for a load,
    They’ll tell us quite directly it’s gone out on the railroad.
    The rich folks, the plan they may justly admire,
    But it ruins us poor wag’ners and it makes our taxes higher:
     
    Our states they are indebted to keep them in repair,
    Which causes us poor wag’ners to curse and to swear.
    It ruins our landlords, it makes business worse,
    And to every other nation it has only been a curse.
     
    It ruins wheelwrights, blacksmiths, and every other trade,
    So damned be all the railroads that ever was made.
    It ruins our mechanics, what think you of it, then?
    And it fills our country full of just a lot of great rich men.

    Read the whole thing here.

    Posted in Tech, Transportation | 6 Comments »

    Book Review: A Pocketful of Stars, by Margaret Ball

    Posted by David Foster on 17th July 2018 (All posts by )

    There aren’t a lot of novels in which the protagonist and the other leading characters are mathematicians.  Here, we have not just a single novel, but a whole series–a total of six books projected.

    Thalia Kostis is a young topology student.  Her Greek-immigrant parents think very little of her mathematical interests,  insisting that she quickly get married off and start producing grandchildren.  She wants a career in pure mathematics, yet has begun questioning her own ability to do pure-math research at the highest level–she worries that her abilities do not compare with those of her roommate Inga, a (tall, blonde, and beautiful) grad student who is also focused on topology. Also, Thalia has been ditched by her former boyfriend, partly because he feels that her mathematical investigations have become just too…disturbing.

    What could be disturbing about pure math?  By chance, Thalia has discovered that by thinking about topological theorems in exactly the right way, she can influence the physical world.  Not a large influence, it appears–but she can move light objects a small distance without touching them.  It turns out that Inga has the same ability, as does Thalia’s best friend Ben. So, it’s not just topology anymore, but…potentially at least…applied topology, and a small research institute has been established at the University of Texas to see where the possibilities lead. The offices of Thalia, Ben, and Inga are separated from the rest of the building by a wall, and it’s a wall with no door…the group having determined that by proper topological thinking, they can pass through solid walls.  The only way for guests without the talent to get into this office area is to be escorted by a talented individual in very close proximity to them.

    One day a man named Bradislav Lensky comes to meet Thalia and the other Institute researchers.  (We are never told exactly which agency, but we can be sure it isn’t the FBI given his frequent remarks about what idiots the employees of that agency mostly are.)  Lensky desires the mathematicians to use their talents to hack into a computer which he suspects is being used to plan a major terrorist attack, probably by bringing Middle Eastern terrorists across the Mexican border. He also informs them that all of their Institute’s funding is actually being supplied by his agency–the foundation which they had thought was their sponsor being actually merely a conduit.  So how can they say no?

    There are numerous other characters.  One of these is a box turtle, encountered by Thalia and Ben at the park, with a band fastened tightly around his neck causing him great distress.  He is Niiquarquusu, a 3000-year-old Mesopotamian talking turtle with a rather grumpy personality–the grumpiness continues after he is liberated from his neckband, but he has abilities of his own which are quite useful when he can be persuaded to use them.  The key, it seems, is proper calibration of the amount of coffee that the turtle (dubbed “Mr M” for convenience)  is given..too little and he will be uncooperative, too much and he will behave in an unproductive and often embarrassing manner.  (Characters discover that before having sex, they need to check carefully to ensure that Mr M is not in the room—he tends to make snide comments, probably comparing the participants unfavorably with the way things were done in ancient Mesopotamia.)

    A fun series with interesting plot twists and characters.  It is not for the politically correct, having already garnered one very upset review at Goodreads.

    I’ve read the three books that have been published so far and am looking forward to the continuation.

    A Pocketful of Stars, at Amazon

    Posted in Book Notes, Product Reviews/Endorsements | 5 Comments »

    Are Professors Undercutting Women in STEM?

    Posted by David Foster on 15th July 2018 (All posts by )

    …and, if so, which professors?

    It has often been asserted that (male) professors in engineering, math, computer science, etc are causing a shortage of women in STEM by projecting the attitude that women are unwelcome in their fields.  I’ve always thought this seemed rather unlikely as a common thing–though no doubt it happens in some  cases–if the assertion is meant to apply to the events of the last 20 years or so.

    Comes now Barbara Oakley, herself a professor of engineering:

    Professors have profound influence over students’ career choices. I’m sometimes flabbergasted at the level of bias and antagonism toward STEM from professors outside scientific fields. I’ve heard it all: STEM is only for those who enjoy “rote” work. Engineering is not creative. There’s only one right answer. You’ll live your life in a cubicle. It’s dehumanizing. You’ll never talk to anyone. And, of course, it’s sexist. All this from professors whose only substantive experience with STEM is a forced march through a single statistics course in college, if that.

    My colleagues in the humanities unthinkingly malign STEM in front of me. Their bias has become so deeply ingrained that they don’t think twice. My students tell me it’s worse when I’m not around.

    She also argues that the differing patterns of math vs verbal skills in men and women tends to make women more susceptible to the anti-STEM shots taken by the professors of which she is speaking:

    Many studies, including a critical review by Elizabeth Spelke in American Psychologist, have shown that on average men and women have the same abilities in math and science. But as Mr. Reges notes, women tend to do better than men verbally—a consequence of early developmental advantages…Consider a student who gets an A in every subject. Let’s call her Nadine. She’s the type of student who could excel in whatever she chooses. Her engineering professors might be telling her that an electrical engineering degree is a great career choice that will open doors and pay well. But her non-STEM professors may be telling her something completely different: “You won’t use your fantastic writing skills. And besides, you’ll just sit in a cubicle crunching numbers.” Nadine can begin to feel she’s untrue to her full set of talents if she picks engineering. So Nadine jumps the STEM ship.

    Only anecdotal evidence is presented; still, given the level of bitterness that seems to pervade today’s academia, the STEM-slamming behavior that Oakley describes doesn’t seem all that unlikely.

    Thoughts?

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    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Human Behavior, Science, Tech | 10 Comments »

    Conformity, Cruelty, and Political Activism

    Posted by David Foster on 10th July 2018 (All posts by )

    John Dos Passos was an American writer.  In his younger years, he was a man of the Left, and, like many leftists and some others he was very involved with the Sacco and Vanzetti case.

    But he was more than a little disturbed by some of those that shared his viewpoint.  Describing one protest he had attended, he wrote:

    From sometime during this spring of 1926 of from the winter before a recollection keeps rising to the surface. The protest meeting is over and I’m standing on a set of steps looking into the faces of the people coming out of the hall. I’m frightened by the tense righteousness of the faces. Eyes like a row of rifles aimed by a firing squad. Chins thrust forward into the icy night. It’s almost in marching step that they stride out into the street. It’s the women I remember most, their eyes searching out evil through narrowed lids. There’s something threatening about this unanimity of protest. They are so sure they are right.

    I agree with their protest:  I too was horrified by this outrage.  I’m not one either to stand by and see injustice done.  But do I agree enough?  A chill goes down by spine..Whenever I remember the little scene I tend to turn it over in my mind.  Why did my hackles rise at the sight of the faces of these good people coming out of the hall? 

    Was it a glimpse of the forming of a new class conformity that like all class conformities was bent on riding the rest of us?

    Quoting Dos Passos and connecting his observations to our own time, Jay Nordlinger wrote:

    I know these people. I saw them in Ann Arbor. I saw them in many other places afterward.  Today, you can see them on campuses as “SJWs”: “social-justice warriors.” You can see them wherever there is arrogant, intolerant extremism (no matter which direction it’s coming from).

    The thing that frightened Dos Passos in the attitude of these protestors–who were, remember, his allies–is in my opinion quite similar to the thing that is so disturbing about so many of today’s “progressive” protestors.  Dos (as he was called) was entirely correct to be disturbed by what he saw, but I don’t think he diagnosed it quite correctly.  Though he refers to the protestors he observed as “those good people,” quite likely many of them weren’t good people at all–even if they were right about their cause–but were rather engaging in the not-good-at-all pleasure of conformity and the enforcement thereof, and would given half a chance have gone all the way to the even-worse pleasure of bullying.

    Whether or not this view of the protestors’ motivations is a fair one–and I am simply layering the explanation that seems to make sense to me on top of Dos’s description of his own subjective reactions–the spirt of conformity certainly drives a great deal of political and other wickedness.  I remember a German man who was interviewed near the beginning of the TV series The World at War.  Although he was anti-Nazi, he described the emotional pull he felt when viewing Party rallies–a strong desire to be part of such a cohesive and comitted group.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, History, Human Behavior, Leftism, USA | 16 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Nice Work, by David Lodge

    Posted by David Foster on 7th July 2018 (All posts by )

    Nice Work by David Lodge

    What happens when an expert on 19th-century British industrial novels—who is a professor, a feminist, and a deconstructionist–finds herself in an actual factory?

    This not being a time-travel novel, the factory is a contemporary one for the book’s setting in mid-1980s Britain.  It is a metalworking plant called Pringle’s, run by managing director Vic Wilcox.  Vic is not thrilled when his boss  (Pringle’s is owned by a conglomerate) suggests that he participate in something called the “shadow” program, designed to make academics and businesspeople better-acquainted with one another, but he goes along with the request.

    Robyn Penrose, literature professor at a nearby university, is also not thrilled about her nomination to participate in the program, but she is concerned about her job in an era of reduced university funding, and also thinks she had better do as asked.  The way the program works is that Robyn will be Vic’s “shadow,”  joining him at the plant every Wednesday, sitting in on his regular activities, and learning just a bit about what is involved in managing a business.

    Vic is a self-made man, not well-educated and with few interests outside work.  He is acutely aware of the danger that faces Pringle’s under the current economic climate, and is resolved that his factory will not join the long list of those that have been tossed on the scrapheap.

    There is nothing quite so forlorn as a closed factory–Vic Wilcox knows, having supervised a shutdown himself in his time.  A factory is sustained by the energy of its own functioning, the throb and whine of machinery, the unceasing motion of assembly lines, the ebb and flow of workers changing shifts, the hiss of airbrakes and the growl of diesel engines from wagons delivering raw materials at one gate, taking away finished goods at the other.  When you put a stop to all that, when the place is silent and empty, all that is left is a large, ramshackle shed–cold, filthy and depressing.  Well, that won’t happen at Pringle’s, hopefully, as they say.  Hopefully.

    Robyn and Vic dislike each other on first meeting:  Vic sees Robyn’s profession as useless, which Robyn sees Vic’s managerial role as brutal and greedy.  She is appalled by what she sees in her first tour of the factory..especially the foundry:

    They crossed another yard, where hulks of obsolete machinery crouched, bleeding rust into their blankets of snow, and entered a large building with a high vaulted roof hidden in gloom.  This space rang with the most barbaric noise Robyn had ever experienced…The floor was covered with a black substance that looked like soot, but grated under the soles of her boots like sand.  The air reeked with a sulphurous, resinous smell, and a fine drizzle of black dust fell on their heads from the roof.  Here and there the open doors of furnaces glowed a dangerous red, and in the far corner of the building what looked like a stream of molten lave trickled down a curved channel from roof to floor…It was the most terrible place she had ever been in her life.  To say that to herself restored the original meaning of the word “terrible”:  it provoked terror, even a kind of awe.  To think of being that man, wrestling with the heavy awkward lumps of metal in that maelstrom of heat, dust and stench, deafened by the unspeakable noise of the vibrating grid, working like that for hour after hour, day after day….That he was black seemed the final indignity:  her heart swelled with the recognition of the spectacle’s powerful symbolism.

    But still:

    The situation was so bizarre, so totally unlike her usual environment, that there was a kind of exhilaration to be found in it…She thought of what her colleagues and students might be doing this Wednesday morning–earnestly discussing the poetry of John Donne or the novels of Jane Austen or the nature of modernism, in centrally heated, carpeted rooms…Penny Black would be feeding more statistics on wife-beating in the West Midlands into her data-base, and Robyn’s mother would be giving a coffee morning for some charitable cause…What would they all think if they could see her now?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Britain, Business, Human Behavior, Management | 1 Comment »

    Summer Rerun Season

    Posted by David Foster on 7th July 2018 (All posts by )

    It now being officially summer, I’m going to be putting up some posts from prior years that I think are worthy of a rerun.

    Posted in Blogging, Reruns | Comments Off on Summer Rerun Season

    Shall It Be Sustained?

    Posted by David Foster on 4th July 2018 (All posts by )

    For the 4th of July of 2014,  Cassandra had an excellent post:  Independence in an Age of Cynicism.  I recommend the entire post and all the links; read especially the third linked essay, which Cass wrote in 2008:  Why I Am Patriotic: a Love Letter to America.

    For the last several years, on July 4th I’ve posted an excerpt from Stephen Vincent Benet’s poem Listen to the People.  The title I’ve used for these posts prior to 2013 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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    Posted in History, Holidays, Poetry, USA | 6 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 1st July 2018 (All posts by )

    A thoughtful post about walls and freedom:

    A city without walls was not a city. Anyone could march in and take over, give commands, and force the residents to obey. Without being able to defend yourself, you could not be counted among the free peoples. You were dependent on the good graces of someone else, be it a noble, a bishop, or hired soldiers. Walls meant the ability to defend your rights and liberties, to keep out unwanted people and protect what was good and valuable.

    Sultan Knish writes about Cybersecurity and Russia:

    “Why the hell are we standing down?”  That was the question that the White House’s cybersecurity coordinator was asked after Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, issued a stand down order on Russia.

    Tolerance for ambiguity as a key factor in career success:

    Too many recent graduates, however, approach their job descriptions the way they did a syllabus in college—as a recipe for winning in a career. They want concrete, well-defined tasks, as if they were preparing for an exam in college. “Excelling at any job is about doing the things you weren’t asked to do,” said Mary Egan, founder of Gathered Table, a Seattle-based start-up and former senior vice president for strategy and corporate development at Starbucks. “This generation is not as comfortable with figuring out what to do.”

    Information and Gossip:

    Now, it so happens that at no point in history, except during the postwar period, did people receive news without being conveyors of news. That nuclear family, where people — pop, mom, 2.2 kids, one dog — are watching TV, receiving information and not transmitting.

    Is loneliness fueling the rise of political polarization?

    Many individuals no longer have the communal and social connections they once had, such as religion, ethnic culture, and family. The only connection many have left is their political party, and that forms their identity. And because of the closeness this has to their identity, they become more tribal and defensive when that party is attacked.

    The lifecycles of large corporations

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    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, History, Human Behavior, Management, Politics | 15 Comments »

    Crimesongs

    Posted by David Foster on 28th June 2018 (All posts by )

    There are a lot of good songs about the criminal way of life…

    Emmylou Harris, Ain’t Living Long Like This

    Tom Russell, Doin’ Hard Time in Texas

    Ian Tyson, Claude Dallas

    Emmylou Harris, Pancho and Lefty

    Roy Drusky, Down in the Valley (Birmingham Jail)

    Jimmie Rodgers, another version of the above, called Moonlight and Skies

    Johnny Cash, Folsom Prison Blues

    Sam Cooke, Frankie and Johnny

    Mississippi John Hurt, Stagger Lee

    Wilson Pickett, another version of Stagger Lee

    Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (with Tom Russell), The Sky Above, The Mud Below

    Two other great Tom Russell songs, Hong Kong Boy and He Wasn’t a Bad Kid When He Was Sober

    What else?

    Posted in Crime and Punishment, Music, USA | 28 Comments »

    Extremely Cool, but…

    Posted by David Foster on 25th June 2018 (All posts by )

    A Gloster Meteor in flyable condition–the Meteor being Britain’s first operational jet fighter–has come to the US on a permanent basis.  The jet has been purchased by the World Heritage Air Museum, which is located near Detroit.  It will be at the EAA Oshkosh show this July, along with two other early British jets.

    The prototype Meteor first flew on March 5, 1943, and the type’s first use was against the V-1 cruise missiles that plagued London.  Meteors were sent to the Continent in early 1945, they were restricted in their operating area for fear of having downed aircraft captured by the Germans or the Soviets and were used for airfield defense and ground-attack missions.

    I believe this was the only flyable Meteor in the UK except for two owned by the Martin-Baker company and used to test ejection seats…as working aircraft these planes probably aren’t available for public display very often, if at all.  It’s great to have a Meteor in the US, but I would have thought that given this airplane’s historical significance, someone in the UK would have raised the money to keep it flying there.

    Posted in Aviation, Britain, History, Military Affairs, Tech, War and Peace | 5 Comments »

    An Interesting and Timely IPO

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd June 2018 (All posts by )

    I’ve been aware for some time of a company called Avalara, which is in the cloud-based tax-compliance business.  In the US, Avalara keeps track of the vast array of sales tax rates, which are imposed not only at the state level but often also at municipal and county levels.  Avalara integrates with a number of electronic commerce platforms, which can pass destination address info to the system and thereby obtain the appropriate tax rate in real time and include it in the end customer’s charges at checkout.

    The company did its Initial Public Offering on June 13, and AVLR quickly jumped from its IPO price of $24 to about $45 , putting its market capitalization at about $2.9 billion.  Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued a decision that has great implications for Avalara’s business…as well as for the businesses of hundreds of thousands if not millions of on-line retailers and the consumers who buy from them–and as of this moment AVLR is trading at $52.16, with a market cap of $3.32 billion.

    What the Court apparently ruled is that states can impose sales taxes on on-line transactions (and, I would presume, classical mail-order transactions as well) even when the seller does not have a physical “nexus” (such as a warehouse, and office or a factory) in that state. (And you can be sure that most of them will take advantage of this opportunity.)   This is really “just” a cost problem for very large on-line merchants such as Amazon, but the compliance issues for smaller businesses are going to be considerable.  Avalara seems well-positioned to help with this problem, but the ruling is still going to be far more burdensome to the smaller on-line merchants than to the large ones.

    See discussion of the sales tax issue at the Instapundit post.

    Regarding Avlara, I have not analyzed this company as a potential investment and am not giving an opinion on it for that purpose either pro or con, certainly not giving investment advice here.

    Posted in Big Government, Business, Internet, Taxes, Tech | 28 Comments »

    This Post is Not About Footwear

    Posted by David Foster on 19th June 2018 (All posts by )

    100th anniversary of the flip-flop

     

    The quintessential digital device.

    Posted in History, Tech | 6 Comments »

    An American Version of the Habsburg Empire?

    Posted by David Foster on 13th June 2018 (All posts by )

    Based on a recommendation from Sgt Mom, I recently read A Sailor of Austria, a novel about an Austrian submarine commander in WWI.  I thought it was excellent, but this post isn’t a book review.

    Both this novel and the memoirs of a real-life Austrian sub commander, Captain Georg von Trapp, portray the intergroup tensions that plagued the multinational/multiethnic/multilanguage/multireligious entity that was the Austro-Hungarian empire.  These tensions only got worse, of course, as the war situation turned darker.  For example, Captain von Trapp, while having some shipyard work done in his submarine, observed that “the work is actually delayed. It is quite similar to Penelope’s tapestry: mysterious forces impede the construction. The crew is suspicious.”  He thought it likely that Czechs working in the shipyard were deliberately slowing the work, noting that  “At the American declaration of war, they supposedly really celebrated, but you can’t pin anything on them.”

    Reading A Sailor of Austria reminded me of my 2011 post Government Overreach and Ethnic Conflict, in which I quoted AJP Taylor:

    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 present-day US doesn’t have the level of government dominance that existed in the Austro-Hungarian empire, 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.

    It does seem that the US is in danger of ceasing to be a nation-state at all and transitioning into a  multinational, multiethnic, multilingual, multireligious, gender-divided empire comprised of groups that are primarily interested in gaining power over their internal rivals.

    Discuss

    Posted in Big Government, Biography, Book Notes, Culture, Europe, History, Society, USA | 18 Comments »

    DC-3 plus 82

    Posted by David Foster on 7th June 2018 (All posts by )

     

     

    June 7, 1936 marked the first delivery of one of the most important airplane types ever developed:  the Douglas DC-3, which has been called “the Model T of aviation.”

    The story of the DC-3 begain with a very long telephone conversation between the heads of American Airlines and Douglas Aircraft.   AA had been conducting coast-to-coast overnight sleeper service using Curtiss Condor II biplanes, and CR Smith of American wanted a more advanced aircraft for this service. Douglas Aircraft was then fully occupied with production of DC-2s (which were too small for sleeper berths) and Donald Douglas was reluctant to undertake the project.  He was persuaded of the merits of the project over the course of a 2-hour phone call, the bill for which came to something like $5400 in today’s money.

    The DC-3 could accommodate 14-16 passengers with berths–see this promotional film–or, alternatively, 21 passengers in a seating-only configuration, which was the more common arrangement.  The type quickly became a huge success.  According to Delta, by 1940 the DC-3 carried 80% of the world’s airline traffic. Thousands of DC-3s (under the military designation C-47) were built in support of the Allied effort in WWII, and after the war a high proportion of these found their way into passenger and freight service.

    Perhaps the best way of discussing the characteristics of the DC-3 is in the context of a walkaround and flight.  (I’ve had two opportunities to fly DC-3s with instructors, the first in 2006 and the most recent in 2017)

    The most noticeable thing about a DC-3 on the ground is its nose-high attitude: this is a tailwheel airplane, whereas most planes today have a nosewheel.  The tailwheel is better for operations on grass and other unpaved strips, but it does make ground handling and landings a little more tricky.

    The airplane has two engines…a few years prior to its introduction, three-engine airplanes had been the thing for passenger traffic, the theory being that the loss of one engine in that case would represent only a 33% loss in total power rather than 50%.  Eliminating the third engine (in the nose) reduced noise and vibration, but required that there be enough reserve power for single-engine flight to be feasible.

    The wings have a noticeable sweepback.  This has nothing whatsoever to do with supersonic or near-supersonic aerodynamics, but was done for reasons of balance.  Wing construction used a stressed-skin approach with a cellular, ‘honeycomb’ internal structure.

    Entering via the rear passenger door, you walk up a fairly steep inclination to get to either a passenger seat or to the cockpit.  (Douglas devoted considerable attention to ensuring that the passenger seats were comfortable, and also to soundproofing the airplane as much as possible.) Pilot and copilot seats are also reasonably comfortable . Electrical switches are on the overhead panel, engine controls in the center:  prop, throttle, and mixture.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, History, Russia, Transportation, War and Peace | 18 Comments »

    June 6, 1944

    Posted by David Foster on 6th June 2018 (All posts by )

    Neptunus Lex:  The liberation of France started when each, individual man on those landing craft as the ramp came down – each paratroop in his transport when the light turned green – made the individual decision to step off with the only life he had and face the fire.

    American Digest:  A walk across a beach in Normandy

    Don Sensing points out that success was by no means assured:  The pivot day of history

    A collection of D-day color photos from Life Magazine

    See Bookworm’s post from 2012, and Michael Kennedy’s photos from 2007

    The Battle of Midway took place from June 4 through June 7, 1942. Bookworm attended a Battle of Midway commemoration event in 2010 and also in 2011: Our Navy–a sentimental service in a cynical society.

    See also  Sgt Mom’s History Friday post from 2014.

    General Electric remembers the factory workers at home who made victory possible.  Also, women building airplanes during WWII, in color and the story of the Willow Run bomber plant.

    A very interesting piece on  the radio news coverage of the invasion

    Before D-day, there was Dieppe

    Transmission ends

    Posted in Europe, France, History, USA, War and Peace | 14 Comments »

    A Most Unusual Protest Song

    Posted by David Foster on 5th June 2018 (All posts by )

    …from the 1960s.

    P F Sloan, When the Wind Changes

    Posted in Europe, History, Human Behavior, Music, Russia, USA, Video | 8 Comments »

    Nicely Put

    Posted by David Foster on 1st June 2018 (All posts by )

    Dictators don’t getting into power by saying “Hey give ME power.”  Dictators get into power by saying “Let me give you power over your neighbor.”

    Defending Civil Society

    Not 100% true, but a useful thought.

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Liberties, Civil Society | 9 Comments »

    Memorial Day and the Deprecation of Freedom

    Posted by David Foster on 28th May 2018 (All posts by )

    On Memorial Day, we pause to reflect on those who died to protect our freedom.  But today I have to wonder:  In this year 2018, what proportion of Americans seriously value freedom?

    Recently I encountered a meme on Facebook that went something like this:

    Keep telling yourself that America is the land of the free while the rest of the developed world enjoys universal healthcare, free college, paid maternity leave, and a ton more vacation time than any of us get.

    Nothing there about free speech, freedom of religion, or even freedom to pursue one’s chosen career.  How many people think this way?  I’m afraid it’s a nontrivial number and a growing one.

    I don’t think I even need to post a lot of links in order to demonstrate that individual freedom is being devalued by many in America today:  the evidence is too well known.  There are surveys showing that large numbers of college students view ‘avoiding offense’ as more important than free speech.  There are on-line mob attacks, and sometimes physical-world mob attacks, against those with dissident views.  College students who do hold such dissident views often feel they must keep those views to themselves, and this is increasingly true in the business world as well.  Americans have become tolerant of bullying bureaucrats and of virtually unlimited discretion on the part of prosecutors.  There is surprisingly little concern about the shadow thrown on free speech by the murderous threats (and sometimes actions) of radical Islamists:  draw a cartoon that offends them, and you may have to go into hiding.

    So my question for today is:  What factors are driving the devaluation of freedom in America today, and what can be done about it?

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Liberties, Crime and Punishment, Human Behavior, Leftism, USA | 27 Comments »