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    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 | 21 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 »

    Worthwhile Watching

    Posted by David Foster on 14th October 2020 (All posts by )

    A thoughtful video in which a young woman (who first worked as a teacher and later as a nurse) explains her reasons for walking away from the Democratic Party. Long, but interesting.

    1.4 million views and 32,000 subscribers so far.

    Posted in Conservatism, Education, Elections, Health Care, Human Behavior, Leftism, Video | 4 Comments »

    A Point About Amy Coney Barrett

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

    …which I haven’t seen much discussed:  Her education was an undergraduate degree at Rhodes College (English literature, French), followed by a law degree (Juris Doctor) from Notre Dame.

    What’s so unusual about that, you ask?  Just this:  every single current Justice has a law degree from Harvard or Yale.  Ginsburg started at Harvard Law, but transferred to Columbia.  Scallia also went to HLS.   So, if ACB is confirmed, she will become the first recent Justice who did not graduate from, or even attend, the apparently-sacred duo of Harvard and Yale.

    Does it matter that the Supreme Court has been so completely dominated by graduates of two universities?  Here’s something Peter Drucker (himself of European origins) wrote back in 1969:

    It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the strength of American higher education lies in this absence of schools for leaders and schools for followers. It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the engineer with a degree from North Idaho A and M is an engineer and not a draftsman. Yet this is the flexibility that Europe needs in order to overcome the brain drain and to close the technology gap…the European who knows himself competent because he is not accepted as such–because he is not an “Oxbridge” man or because he did not graduate from one of the Grandes Ecoles and become an Inspecteur de Finance in the government service–will continue to emigrate where he will be used according to what he can do rather than according to what he has not done.

    and

    The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim.

    The US has come a lot closer to accepting such a claim on the part of HLS than it had when Drucker wrote the above.  Admissions officers at Ivy League schools have been allowed by our society to effectively claim way too much discretionary power over the filling of key roles throughout government and elsewhere.  The way in which this discretionary power has been too often exercised can be glimpsed in the analysis showing that Harvard consistently rated Asian-American applicants lower than others on traits like “positive personality,” likability, courage, kindness and being “widely respected.  (Academic bureaucrats rating people on courage?)

    Questions might also be asked about the internal academic cultures within universities to which so much power has been given: for example, a recent FIRE survey of free speech on campus found that 37% of Ivy League students say that shouting down a speaker is “always” or “sometimes” acceptable, compared to 26% of students not enrolled at Ivy League colleges.  And almost 1 in 5 Ivy League students find it “always” or “sometimes” acceptable to block other students from entering a campus event, compared to roughly 1 in 10 of non-Ivy students.  Way too much repressive thinking on American campuses these days; even worse at the Ivy League, evidently, than elsewhere.

    I haven’t heard any publicly-stated objections to ACB’s non-Ivy background, and I certainly don’t think it’s a primary factor in the objections to her nomination, but I do wonder if it is influencing some individuals behind the scenes.

    More importantly, though, this possible exception to what would otherwise be the Harvard-and-Yale-only rule for Justices points out just how much power these universities have garnered to themselves and to their selected graduates.

     

     

     

     

    Posted in Academia, Education, Law, USA | 17 Comments »

    Larry the Liquidator is on the Line

    Posted by David Foster on 17th September 2020 (All posts by )

    The current behavior of the Democratic Party and its allies in media and academia reminds me of the 1991 movie Other People’s Money.  The main character, known as Larry the Liquidator, specializes in acquiring companies for the purpose of selling off their assets.  When the film opens, his new target is a struggling company called New England Wire & Cable Company.  Larry calls on the CEO (Jorgy) and says that by his calculations, the company would be better off from a shareholder standpoint (and hence from the CEO’s standpoint) being broken up and sold off in pieces.  Jorgy,emotionally connected to his family-founded company and  conscious of his position as the town’s leading employer, is appalled at the very idea and refuses to give in.

    Nevertheless, Larry prevails in the resulting proxy fight, and the company falls into his hands.  But there is a deus ex machina…Kate, the beautiful lawyer who has been hired to defend the company, identifies a major new market for the company’s products: the stainless steel wire cloth required for automotive airbags.  (And, of course, Larry (Danny DeVito) has fallen head-over-heels in love with Kate (Penelope Ann Miller)

    The Dems and their allies appear to care about the long-term existence of the US and the welfare of its people as little as Larry the Liquidator cares about the continued existence of New England Wire and Cable and its employees and customers.  They will happily sell it off to miscellaneous parties…various ethnic and gender groups and pressure groups…promising those groups an appreciation in their ‘stock’, in the form of government goodies or at least self-esteem and the pleasures of righteous anger. And regardless of whether those promises are actually fulfilled, the Dems and their allies will, like Larry, collect their substantial fee.

    And, in fairness to Larry, there are indeed cases whether spinoffs, breakup, or outright liquidation is the best thing for a company, sometimes the only thing.  (That would likely have eventually turned out to have been the case with New England Wire & Cable absent Kate’s highly-improbably ‘invention’…it seems clear that Jorgy was not managing the company well in the existing circumstances…if he had been, he would have uncovered the wire-cloth opportunity himself..and was unlikely to change his ways.)  But breaking up a company is a very different thing from fragmenting a company and a society.  And, while Larry has had no prior involvement with NEWC, the Dems and their allies have mostly lived here all their lives and benefitted greatly from doing so.

     

     

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Film, Leftism, USA | 41 Comments »

    For Labor Day: Songs About Work

    Posted by David Foster on 7th September 2020 (All posts by )

    …from Tom Russell

    What Work Is

    US Steel

    Small Engine Repair

    Ambrose Larsen

    California Snow

    Posted in Holidays, Music | 3 Comments »

    New Frontiers in Offshoring

    Posted by David Foster on 6th September 2020 (All posts by )

    Babysitting…of kids in Japan, via Zoom, by women in Rwanda.

    Relates to my posts telemigration and Covid-19, Remote Work, and Offshoring.

     

    Posted in COVID-19, Economics & Finance, Internet, Japan, Tech | 7 Comments »

    Political Legitimacy

    Posted by David Foster on 30th August 2020 (All posts by )

    Nancy Pelosi, asserting that there should be no presidential debates, said “I wouldn’t legitimize a conversation with (Trump) nor a debate in terms of the presidency of the United States.”  (emphasis added) She also called President Trump and his Congressional supporters “enemies of the state,” a phrase that has a rather sinister history.  See also her November 2019 comments, made in the context of the impeachment hearings, about the integrity and legitimacy of the 2020 elections.

    What this is really all about, as I see it, is an assertion that no elected President is legitimate unless he is approved by the Proper People.

    In the Holy Roman Empire (‘neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire,’ said Bismarck), the Emperor was chosen by election, but the election was limited to a small elite group known as the Prince-Electors.  In America today, we have a group of people–national journalists, elite academics, senior government officials–who see themselves as the Prince-Electors and who believe no one should become President without their endorsement.

    There can be popular elections, in this model, but the candidates are required to be pre-vetted by the Prince-Electors. So maybe a better historical analogy would be Guided Democracy, “a formally democratic government that functions as a de facto autocracy,”  practiced most notably in Indonesia under Sukarno.

    Increasingly, Democrats are attacking the foundations of true democracy and maneuvering for establishment of an autocratic oligarchy overlaid with a Potemkin “people’s” government.  The 2020 elections will measure how successful–or not–they’ve been.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 41 Comments »

    Covid-19 Transmission Data

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

    …an interesting study from China.  There is a discussion thread at Grim’s Hall.

    The study indicates that the transmission rate to household members where there is an infected member was 10.3%, while the transmission rate to healthcare workers was 1.0%..and the transmission rate on public transportation was only 0.1%.  However, I think there is some ambiguity in how these numbers should be interpreted.

    If you’re so inclined, read the paper, dig into the numbers and their meaning, and comment with your thoughts.

    Posted in China, COVID-19, Statistics | 15 Comments »

    Book Review: Overload, by Arthur Hailey

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

    Overload by Arthur Hailey

    —-

    Heat! Heat in stifling blanket layers. Heat that enveloped all of California from the arid Mexican border in the south to majestic Klamath Forest, elbowing northward into Oregon. Heat, oppressive and enervating…Throughout cities and suburbs, in factories, offices, stores and homes, six million electric air-conditioners hummed.  On thousands of farms in the fertile Central Valley–the richest agricultural complex in the world–armies of electric pumps gulped water from deep wells, directing it to thirsty cattle and parched crops…California had known other heat waves and survived their consequences.  But in none had the demands for electrical power been so great.

    “That’s it, then,” the chief electric dispatcher said unnecessarily.  “There goes the last of our spinning reserve.”

    I was reminded of this book by the current electrical crisis in California.  It is quite likely the only novel ever written in which an electrical power utility and its executives and employees are the good guys of the story.

    The protagonist, Nim Goldman, is VP of Planning for Golden State Power & Light, which in the book is the predominant electrical supplier in California.  The company is wrestling with the problems of accommodating growing electrical demand while facing more and more restrictions from regulators.  To which difficulties are added the impact of an unprecedented heat wave and the threat of terrorist attacks.

    GSP&L’s opponents fall into three overlapping circles.  First, there is a mainstream and rather staid environmental organization called the Sequoia club.  Then, there is an activist organization called Power and Light for People. run by an Australian named Davy Birdsong, which wants to replace for-profit utilities with some sort of government entity or collective.  Finally, there is a small but deadly terrorist group which seeks maximum social disruption and sees an attack of GSP&L as the best way to achieve that goal.

    The book, published in 1979, is kind of a period piece…the fuels in use are coal and oil, no mention of solar or wind; while there is concern about pollution–especially from coal–no one is talking about climate change; and while there are complaints about high electricity bills and corporate greed, no one is suggesting that Americans be weaned from most of their electricity use and forced to shut down their air conditioners. The story is well-told, although it is kind of a pot-boiler..for one thing, Nim has so much sex, and some of it under such unusual circumstances, that the actual effect is (unintentionally, I’m sure) comic. The technologies of power generation and distribution are portrayed reasonably accurately within the limitations of a popular novel. The fundamental issue of matching supply and demand continuously, in real time, comes across clearly.  One character, Karen Sloan, is a quadriplegic whose very life depends upon electricity–the battery both for her assisted-breathing device and for her powered wheelchair must be periodically recharged, or else…a neat way of illustrating what a serious matter the continuity of electrical service actually is.

    Overload would make a great movie, but probably could not be made in the current environment without some switching-around of good guys and villains.

     

     

    Posted in Book Notes, Business, Energy & Power Generation, Environment | 14 Comments »

    Another Point About Vote-by-Mail

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

    There has been much discussion about the dangers of fraud, lost ballots, extreme delays, etc, which could be associated with a large-scale vote-by-mail policy.  There is another danger in vote-by-mail which I haven’t seen much discussed, and that’s the danger of voter intimidation.

    If someone is voting at home, then it’s not really always a secret ballot. Someone: an aggressive spouse, a ‘helpful’ minister or activist or neighbor…may exercise a subtle or not-so-subtle pressure. Particularly when one candidate (Trump) is considered socially unacceptable in many circles, I don’t think this is a trivial danger.

    In the election held in Germany after Hitler was already in power, closed voting booths were retained, but a large sign in front of them stated: “All patriotic Germans are proud to show how they vote.” There were people there to observe who went into the voting booth and who did not.  So almost everyone voted at a table in the open…and guess how almost all of them voted?

    Posted in Elections, Germany, Trump, USA | 39 Comments »

    Covid-19, Remote Work, and Offshoring

    Posted by David Foster on 13th August 2020 (All posts by )

    The general attitude toward working from home has certainly changed over the last several years.  In 2013, the then-CEO of Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer, banned work-from-home at her company.  And in 2017, IBM established a similar ban. Both of these actions were based on perceived needs to improve productivity and collaboration at those companies

    But in 2020, a lot of companies that moved to work-from home in the Covid-19 environment…because they had no choice if they wanted to continue operating at all…have apparently found it to be working to their satisfaction, and many though not all employees like it, too.  And there is starting to be significant impact on where people choose to live…see these comments from the governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu.  The term ‘zoomtowns’ has been applied to locations where people choose to live and work remotely, based on a locality’s attractive characteristics and good Internet connectivity.

    I do think that a comprehensive work-from-home environment can result in losing something in terms of unplanned interactions…I’ve personally observed several significant product and business initiatives that resulted from such interactions, and there are also interesting historical cases. But such things are difficult to measure, and financial benefits and convenience of work-from-home are likely to prevail, perhaps excessively so in some cases.  In any event, the Yahoo! and IBM approach of broad-scale top-down corporate edicts is unlikely to be a good one.

    Another kind of remote work involves the use of people at remote locations…though not necessarily at home…to perform machine-control tasks that would previously have had to be done on-site.  The robots being used by Federal Express at its Memphis facility sometimes encounter problems that they can’t solve…they can be ‘advised’ by humans located in San Antonio. There are projects underway to make municipal water treatment plants remotely operable, either for emergency backup (as in a pandemic) or for normal operations, and there are also initiatives focused on remote operation of other kinds of infrastructure, utility, and industrial facilities.

    If something can be done by people who are remotely located within the United States, then in most cases it will also be doable by people who are remotely located in other parts of the world.  In my 2019 post telemigration, I wrote about the increasing feasibility of offshoring services work, not only manufacturing.  A lot of this has been going on for software development as well as for customer service.

    It may turn out that, in many cases, remote work in the US turns out to be just a waystation on the road to remote work somewhere else.

    Posted in Business, COVID-19, Customer Service, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Management, Tech | 42 Comments »

    Kids These Days

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

    ‘these days’ being 1896….here is a film taken by the Lumiere Brothers, enhanced for higher resolution and interpolated for a faster frame rate.

    There is also a colorized version, which is very cool, although the actual colors could of course only be guessed.

    Posted in Film, France, Tech | 4 Comments »

    Goedel’s Theorem Extended

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

    In 1931, the mathematician Kurt Goedel showed that for any consistent  formal system of logic of logic (of at least a certain degree of complexity), there will always be some true statements that cannot be proved, and some false statements that cannot be disproved within the system.  No matter how many axioms you add to the system, there will still be statements that cannot be proved or disproved within it.

    I was reminded of Goedel’s Theorem by some of the more far-out accusations of racism, sexism, etc that have been made against individuals lately, and was thinking that there should be an analogous theorem:  No matter how an individual chooses to act and speak in a way that will shield him from accusations of X-ism, there will always be a way that someone can build a case that he is in fact an X-ist.

    But before I could post about that extension to the theorem, along comes this post by a physician, talking about some of the ways his patients have managed to misinterpret the instructions for using birth control pills–leading to a need to specify more and more detail when giving such instructions.

    But adding more detail probably like adding more axioms to one of Goedel’s formal systems…so the additional analogous theorem is: No matter how detailed the instructions for doing something may be, there will always be a way for someone to interpret them incorrectly.

     

     

    Posted in Civil Society, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Science | 20 Comments »

    Paging Dr Kennedy

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

    Someone on social media linked this study of Covid-19 after-effects:

    https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamacardiology/fullarticle/2768916

    …I’d be interested in your thoughts.

    Posted in COVID-19 | 48 Comments »

    Father Damien

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

    I don’t think many people at this site are in need of an explanation as to what was wrong with Alexandria Occasio-Cortez’s objection to the statue of Father Damien.  So I’ll just link a couple of songs about Damien, from Tom Russell’s album The Rose of Roscrae.

    The Hands of Damien

    A Crust of Bread, a Slice of Fish, a Cup of Water

    The protagonist of the album, which is set in the American West, is an Irish immigrant and outlaw named Johnny:  when he hears Damien’s story, it inspires him to seek his own redemption.

    Posted in Civil Liberties, History, Leftism, Music | 5 Comments »

    Conformity and Intimidation

    Posted by David Foster on 28th July 2020 (All posts by )

    (I mentioned these links before, in comments to this post, but I believe they are important enough to merit inclusion in a top-level post)

    According to a poll conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Cato Institute, almost 2/3 of Americans are afraid of sharing their political views. And with some reason, it seems: among strong ‘liberals’, 50% would support firing a business executive who had privately donated to the Trump campaign. Among strong conservatives, 36% would support firing an executive who donated to Biden. Even among those who identify as just ‘liberal’ rather than ‘very liberal’, 43% would be in favor of firing a Trump donator…22% of conservatives would be in favor of firing a Biden donor.

    See also this very interesting piece by the entrepreneur and venture capitalist Paul Graham: The Four Pillars of Conformism. Read the whole thing.

    Posted in Business, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Human Behavior, USA | 39 Comments »