Chicago Boyz

                 
 
 
What Are Chicago Boyz Readers Reading?
 

 
  •   Enter your email to be notified of new posts:
  •   Problem? Question?
  •   Contact Authors:

  • CB Twitter Feed
  • Blog Posts (RSS 2.0)
  • Blog Posts (Atom 0.3)
  • Incoming Links
  • Recent Comments

    • Loading...
  • Authors

  • Notable Discussions

  • Recent Posts

  • Blogroll

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Author Archive

    Coupling

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

    (No, this post is not about sex…sorry. Nor is it about electrical engineering, though it might at first give that impression.)

    The often-interesting General Electric blog has an article about drones, linked to a cloud-based AI platform, which are used to inspect power lines and detect incipient problems–for example, vegetation which is threatening to encroach on the lines and short them out, or a transformer with a tendency to overheat.  The article mentions a 2003 event in which an encounter between an overgrown tree branch and a sagging power line resulted in a wide-area blackout that affected 50 million people.

    The inspection drone sounds like a very useful and productivity-improving tool: obviously, inspecting thousands of miles of power lines is nontrivial job. But the deeper issue, IMO, is the fact that one problem in one place can propagate over such a wide area and affect such a vast number of people.  Power system designers and the people who operate these systems are certainly aware of the need to minimize fault propagation:  circuit breakers and fuses, network analysis tools,  and the technologies of protective relaying were developed, by GE among others, precisely for reasons of fault localization.  But experience shows that large-scale fault propagation still sometimes does take place.

    This problem is not limited to electrical systems.  The mention of the tree-branch-caused 2003 blackout reminded me of a passage from the historian Hendrik Willem Van Loon:

    Unfortunately in the year 1914 the whole world was one large international workshop. A strike in the Argentine was apt to cause suffering in Berlin. A raise in the price of certain raw materials in London might spell disaster to tens of thousands of long-suffering Chinese coolies who had never even heard of the existence of the big city on the Thames. The invention of some obscure Privat-Dozent in a third-rate German university would often force dozens of Chilean banks to close their doors, while bad management on the part of an old commercial house in Gothenburg might deprive hundreds of little boys and girls in Australia of a chance to go to college.

    This probably overstates the interconnectedness of the global economy as it existed in 1914, but would fit our present-day global economy very well.  (The author was talking about the origins of WWI, which he blamed largely on economic interconnectedness…not correct, IMO, but the war was largely caused, or at least reached the scale that it did, because of another type of interconnectedness…in the shape of alliances.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Business, Capitalism, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Trump, War and Peace | 18 Comments »

    The Great War and its Aftermath

    Posted by David Foster on 11th November 2018 (All posts by )

    Did you really believe that this war would end wars
    Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
    The killing and dying it was all done in vain
    Oh willy mcbride it all happened again
    And again, and again, and again, and again

    The Green Fields of France

    This haunting passage certainly expresses well what has become the common view of the First World War–that it was a war for no really valid reason, conducted with unforgivable incompetence. And there is little question that the War had a shattering effect on the societies of the major belligerents.  I’ve written about this in my post The Great War and Western Civilization (linking a thoughtful post by Sarah Hoyt) and also reviewed Erich Maria Remarque’s important and neglected novel The Road Back, which deals with the War’s impact on a group of young German veterans.

    Taking a contrarian viewpoint, historian Benjamin Schwartz suggests that maybe the British decision to enter the war wasn’t really so unreasonable:

    The notion, advanced by the German historian Fritz Fischer and some of his protégés, that there wasn’t much difference between the war aims of Wilhelmine and of Nazi Germany remains controversial. It’s clear, however, that at least after the war began, German plans effectively called for (along with the subjugation of much of Eastern Europe and Russia) the permanent subjugation of France, the transformation of Belgium into a “vassal state,” and the German navy’s taking of French and Belgian Channel ports to use as bases—actions that would certainly threaten Britain’s naval security…

    Gary Sheffield’s book Forgotten Victory makes a similar argument about the necessity of the war, at least from a British standpoint.  The author argues that militarism was very strong in the German ruling circles and that there was no effective check on the Kaiser and the generals; he also describes the treatment of civilians in the German-occupied countries as having been in some cases pretty brutal:

    William Alexander Percy, an American volunteer with Herbert Hoover’s Commission for Relief in Belgium, remembered seeing batches of Belgian workers returning from forced labor in Germany.  “They were creatures imagined by El Greco — skeletons, with blue flesh clinging to their bones, too weak to stand alone, too ill to be hungry any longer.”

    He also mentions, though, that one major difference between German policy in the two world wars was that the deportations during the First World War were halted in the face of international condemnation.  (It also seems unlikely that this kind of forced labor would have continued after the end of the war, had German won.  The Kaiser was unstable, a narcissist, and a militarist, but he was not a Hitler, at least at that point in his life.)

    Sheffield also challenges the claim of British military incompetence throughout the war…indeed, he argues that the British Army became a “learning organization,” and points to technological innovations (such as sound ranging…”the Manhattan Project of the 1914-1918 war”…and the instantaneous fuse) in addition to tactical improvements.  Finally, he suggests that the perception of universal disillusionment and cynicism in the aftermath of the War has been exaggerated by the writings of well-connected, highly-educated and highly-verbal people, and such feelings were less-common among the population as a whole.

    Sheffield has clearly done a lot of research, and makes his arguments well.  Still, it is hard to imagine that given the countries, technologies, and leaders of the time, any likely alternative could have been much worse than what did in fact happen.

    See also Sgt Mom’s Veterans Day post and the new post by Sarah Hoyt.

     

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, France, Germany, History, Military Affairs, USA, War and Peace | 15 Comments »

    Wild and Wasted Virtues

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

    Some of the pre-election commentary, especially from the Left, reminds me once again of an interesting Chesterton passage from 1908:

    The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful. For example, Mr. Blatchford attacks Christianity because he is mad on one Christian virtue: the merely mystical and almost irrational virtue of charity. He has a strange idea that he will make it easier to forgive sins by saying that there are no sins to forgive. Mr. Blatchford is not only an early Christian, he is the only early Christian who ought really to have been eaten by lions. For in his case the pagan accusation is really true: his mercy would mean mere anarchy. He really is the enemy of the human race– because he is so human.

    Previous reference to this passage:  Sympathy for the Devil

    Posted in History, Philosophy, Politics | 16 Comments »

    Nicely Put

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

    Bill Reader, at Sarah Hoyt’s blog, speaking of American democracy:

    It is also remarkable in how undramatic it was in its conception, admitting the probability that people with some flawed ideas are not flawed in all ideas—that extreme measures to silence a person because of disagreement, even totally valid disagreement over things that are an existential threat to the nation, would throw many babies out with the bathwater and render the country draconian and uncomfortable in the meanwhile.

    A very good point–someone having bad ideas, or at least ideas that we think are bad, does not mean that he doesn’t also have good ideas.

    One thing that I have noticed about “Progressives” is that their categorization engines tend to be over-aggressive:  if someone has any of the opinions/beliefs in a particular list, then it is assumed that he/she also has all other beliefs in that list.  For example, IIRC, I’ve seen commenters assail our friend Bookworm for being an Evangelical Christian, whereas actually, she is Jewish. They simply cannot grasp that there might be a Trump-supporting human who is in material ways unlike their mental model of Trump supporters (uneducated, angry, anti-sex, highly-religious Christian, etc).

    The quoted passage is from a very interesting essay that is worth reading in full.

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Trump, USA | 9 Comments »

    The Two Minutes Hate is Being Indefinitely Extended

    Posted by David Foster on 29th October 2018 (All posts by )

    Atlantic writer Franklin Foer:

    Any strategy for enhancing the security of American Jewry should involve shunning Trump’s Jewish enablers. Their money should be refused, their presence in synagogues not welcome. They have placed their community in danger.

    I wonder if Franklin Foer has been equally vehement in denouncing the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic harassment on American university campuses, or the ongoing relationship of prominent Democrats with Louis Farrakhan, or the attempted political murders of Steve Scalise and others. After Nancy Pelosi said “I just don’t even know why there aren’t uprisings all over the country,”  did he call for the shunning of Pelosi contributors?

    Saturday, from a journalist named Julia Loffe:

    And a word to my fellow American Jews: This president makes this possible. Here. Where you live. I hope the embassy move over there, where you don’t live was worth it.

    So she thinks the US should establish its foreign policy to ensure against a possible violent reaction from any of the worst criminals, crazies, and thugs in the country?  That is an equation with no solutions, and her foregoing tweet doesn’t strike me as even being sane.

    Also Saturday, journalist Salena Zito was confronted by a reporter for the Guardian:

    In middle of a somber moment at staging area while I was talking to a member of the Jewish community this @guardian reporter started screaming at me that I was an anti-Semite/that I caused shooting because I reports on Trump  & to leave and kept screaming in my face to get out.

    “Progressives” often accuse Trump supporters of being “haters”, but it should be obvious that many of the Progs are themselves filled with hate and rage to a frightening degree.

    John Podhoretz:

    Based on the early evidence, the shooter was not only consumed with a hatred of Jews but possessed a kind of sneering contempt for Trump on the grounds that Trump was basically a Jewish agent or a Jew-lover himself. Trump can only be blamed for the murderous Jew-killing actions of someone who thought of him that way by people who are so consumed by hatred of him that there is nothing they won’t blame him for.

    It has even been asserted that Soros is shorthand for the Jews, and anyone who has said anything about him (presumably he means said anything negative about him) has blood on their hands.  (I suspect that the people making these claims are mostly the same people who object vehemently to “big money in politics.”)

    Masha Merkulova, who came to the US from the Soviet Union:

    Not a week goes by that I don’t hear about university professors who are concerned about openly identifying as Zionist for fear of being punished in their professional lives; or college students who worry about their grades and social lives if they object to their professors’ anti-Israel words and actions; or teens whose teachers are outwardly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, or whose classmates draw a swastika next to their name.

    Yet this sort of thing seems to be of little interest to most prominent journalists, “intellectual” writers, activist-entertainers, etc…most probably because it can’t be used as a hammer to beat up on their favorite targets.

    Much of the Left today seems absolutely blinded by hate. (For one more example, see the disruption of a moment of silence for the Pittsburgh victims, at a Marsha Blackburn event in Tennessee.)  As the election approaches, I am convinced that it’s important to keep these people as far away as possible from the levers of power.  The assertions that there should be a prohibition against criticism of George Soros seems like a clear indicator that the Left, if they had the power, would like to treat this as a Reichstag Fire moment to shut down speech and political activity of which they don’t approve.

    Posted in Academia, Crime and Punishment, Current Events, Jewish Leftism, Judaism, Leftism, USA, War and Peace | 32 Comments »

    The Cuban Missile Crisis, as Viewed From a Soviet Launch Facility (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 21st October 2018 (All posts by )

    This month marks the 56th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world dangerously close to thermonuclear war.

    Several years ago,  I read  Rockets and People, the totally fascinating memoir of Soviet rocket developer Boris Chertok, which I reviewed here.

    Chertok’s career encompassed both military and space-exploration projects, and in late October 1962 he was focused on preparations for launching a Mars probe. On the morning of Oct 27, he was awakened by “a strange uneasiness.” After a quick breakfast, he headed for the missile assembly building, known as the MIK.

    At the gatehouse, there was usually a lone soldier on duty who would give my pass a cursory glance. Now suddenly I saw a group of soldiers wielding sub-machine guns, and they thoroughly scrutinized my pass. Finally they admitted me to the facility grounds and there, to my surprise, I again saw sub-machine-gun-wielding soldiers who had climbed up the fire escape to the roof of the MIK. Other groups of soldiers in full combat gear, even wearing gas masks, were running about the periphery of the secure area. When I stopped in at the MIK, I immediately saw that the “duty” R-7A combat missile, which had always been covered and standing up against the wall, which we had always ignored, was uncovered.

    Chertok was greeted by his friend Colonel Kirillov, who was in charge of this launch facility. Kirollov did not greet Chertok with his usual genial smile, but with a “somber, melancholy expression.”

    Without releasing my hand that I’d extended for our handshake, he quietly said: “Boris Yevseyevich, I have something of urgent importance I must tell you”…We went into his office on the second floor. Here, visibly upset, Kirillov told me: “Last night I was summoned to headquarters to see the chief of the [Tyura-Tam] firing range. The chiefs of the directorates and commanders of the troop units were gathered there. We were told that the firing range must be brought into a state of battle readiness immediately. Due to the events in Cuba, air attacks, bombardment, and even U.S. airborne assaults are possible. All Air Defense Troops assets have already been put into combat readiness. Flights of our transport airplanes are forbidden. All facilities and launch sites have been put under heightened security. Highway transport is drastically restricted. But most important—I received the order to open an envelope that has been stored in a special safe and to act in accordance with its contents. According to the order, I must immediately prepare the duty combat missile at the engineering facility and mate the warhead located in a special depot, roll the missile out to the launch site, position it, test it, fuel it, aim it, and wait for a special launch command. All of this has already been executed at Site No. 31. I have also given all the necessary commands here at Site No. 2. Therefore, the crews have been removed from the Mars shot and shifted over to preparation of the combat missile. The nosecone and warhead will be delivered here in 2 hours.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Cuba, History, Russia, Space, War and Peace | 12 Comments »

    The Case for the Democrats

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

    This meme, which I’ve seen being circulated on social media, lays out a view of the Democratic positions and worldview versus those of the Republicans.

    Posted in Leftism, Political Philosophy, Politics, Trump, USA | 6 Comments »

    Swipe Left if You Support (that other political party)

    Posted by David Foster on 16th October 2018 (All posts by )

    Four years ago, I posted But Would You Want Your Daughter to Marry One?, which showed a sharp increase in the % of parents who would be displeased if their son or daughter were to marry a supporter of the opposing party.  I was reminded of this post by the launch of a dating app called Donald Daters, intended for single supporters of President Trump.  It seems to fill a need: one early user remarked that he would meet women on other dating apps, but often on the first date, politics would come up.  “Literally didn’t matter if I had cured cancer for the whole world or if I was the best-looking man on the planet, these ladies turned into hardcore Trump-hating people and needless to say, we didn’t see each other again because it was a dealbreaker for them.”

    Another user says just a few years ago, he didn’t find that people cared so much about political opinions. “It just shocks me that people aren’t willing to listen to each other anymore,” he said. “So might as well just look for someone with the same set of ethics, morals and common sense.”  (He says he would absolutely be open to dating someone who wasn’t a Trump fan.)

    (If you’re interested in using this app yourself, you might want to wait a while–from the article, it sounds like there may be some early security issues with the product.)

    See also my related post Life in the Fully Politicized Society, continued.

    Posted in Human Behavior, Society, USA | 15 Comments »

    Tariffs, Trade, and the British Corn Laws

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

    Stuart Schneiderman linked an article by Robert Samuelson on the 1846 British repeal of the tariffs on food imports, which further linked an Economist article arguing that:

    With the repeal of the tariffs, instituted to protect British corn farmers, liberal economic policies ascended. Free trade, free enterprise, free markets and limited government became the rule. And the world has not been the same since.  (Schneiderman’s summary)

    To me, it is highly questionable how much the elimination of tariffs had to do with limited government and internal free enterprise. The view that the British 1846 action was economically a very good thing for almost everybody is, however, generally accepted.  From the Economist article:

    The case for getting rid of British tariffs on imported grain was not a dry argument about economic efficiency. It was a mass movement, one in which well-to-do liberal thinkers and progressive businessmen fought alongside the poor against the landowners who, by supporting tariffs on imports, kept up the price of grain…When liberals set up the Anti-Corn Law League to organise protests, petitions and public lectures they did so in the spirit of the Anti-Slavery League, and in the same noble name: freedom. The barriers the league sought to remove did not merely keep people from their cake—bad though such barriers were, and strongly though they were resented. They were barriers that held them back, and which set people against each other. Tearing them down would not just increase the wealth of all. It would bring to an end, James Wilson believed, the “jealousies, animosities and heartburnings between individuals and classes…and…between this country and all others.”

    Again, this is all mostly generally-accepted thinking.  But Stuart’s post and the links reminded me of something I read–oddly enough, in a 1910 book on railroad history.  The author (Angus Sinclair) describes the transition to steel rails (from cast iron) and the heavier trains they enabled, and then discusses the political-economic impact of this transition:

    The invention of cheap methods of making steel rails has exerted a tremendous effect upon railroad transportation, and has created social revolutions in certain part of the world…It threw many farms in New England and along the Atlantic seaboard out of cultivation; it caused a semi-revolution in farming business in the British Isles, and strongly affected the condition and fortunes of millions of people in other countries.  Irish peasants used to go in thousands to England and Scotland to work in the harvesting of grain crops and thereby earned enough money to pay the rent of their small holdings.  Steel rails and Consolidation locomotives stopped the cultivation of so many wheat fields in the British Isles that the help of the Irish worker was no longer needed…

    The woes of Ireland were merely the preliminary manifestations of hardships inflicted through the grim ordeal of competition worked out by our cheapened  methods of land transportation.  (The heavier locomotive enabled by steel rails) is steadily forcing more grain raising farms of Europe out of cultivation and is raising a demand for protection against cheap land, just as our politicians have so long urged the necessity for protection against the cheap labor of Europe.

    About 60 years ago Great Britain abolished all duties on grain…By curious reasoning the statesmen believed that this policy would not only make the British Isles the manufacturers of the world, but that it would increase the prosperity of the agricultural communities as well.  The first thirty years’ experience of free corn did not seriously  challenge the correctness of the free trade theory, for more of the American wheat lands were yet unbroken prairie or virgin forests, and our steel rail makers and locomotive builders were merely getting ready…In 1858 the rate per bushel of wheat from Chicago to New York was 38.61 cents.  The rate today is 11.4 cents…

    The effect of that cheapening of transportation in the United States has been very disastrous to Great Britain, for during the last thirty years there had been a shrinkage of 3,000,000 acres in wheat and another of 750,000 acres in green crops; an enormous amount of land had reverted to pasturage…and the number of cultivators of the soil  had declined 600,000 in thirty years–1,000,000 in fifty years.

    That is a high price to pay for the devotion to a theory which fails to work out as expected.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Britain, Business, Capitalism, Economics & Finance, History, Ireland, Libertarianism, Taxes, Transportation, USA | 36 Comments »

    Sputnik Anniversary Rerun – Book Review: Rockets and People

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

    Today being the 61st  anniversary of the Sputnik launch, here’s a rerun of a post about a very interesting book.

    Rockets and People, by Boris E Chertok

    Boris Chertok’s career in the Russian aerospace industry spanned many decades, encompassing both space exploration and military missile programs. His four-volume memoir is an unusual document–partly, it reads like a high school annual or inside company history edited by someone who wants to be sure no one feels left out and that all the events and tragedies and inside jokes are appropriately recorded. Partly, it is a technological history of rocket development, and partly, it is a study in the practicalities of managing large programs in environments of technical uncertainty and extreme time pressure. Readers should include those interested in: management theory and practice, Russian/Soviet history, life under totalitarianism, the Cold War period, and missile/space technology. Because of the great length of these memoirs, those who read the whole thing will probably be those who are interested in all (or at least most) of the above subject areas. I found the series quite readable; overly-detailed in many places, but always interesting. In his review American astronaut Thomas Stafford said “The Russians are great storytellers, and many of the tales about their space program are riveting. But Boris Chertok is one of the greatest storytellers of them all.”  In this series, Chertok really does suck you into his world.

    Chertok was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1912: his mother had been forced to flee Russia because of her revolutionary (Menshevik) sympathies. The family returned to Russia on the outbreak of the First World War, and some of Chertok’s earliest memories were of the streets filled with red-flag-waving demonstrators in 1917. He grew up on the Moscow River, in what was then a quasi-rural area, and had a pretty good childhood–“we, of course, played “Reds and Whites,” rather than “Cowboys and Indians””–swimming and rowing in the river and developing an early interest in radio and aviation–both an airfield and a wireless station were located nearby. He also enjoyed reading–“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn met with the greatest success, while Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin gave rise to aggressive moods–‘Hey–after the revolution in Europe, we’ll deal with the American slaveholders!” His cousin introduced him to science fiction, and he was especially fond of Aelita (book and silent film), featuring the eponymous Martian beauty.

    Chertok remembers his school years fondly–there were field trips to study art history and architectural styles, plus a military program with firing of both rifles and machine guns–but notes “We studied neither Russian nor world history….Instead we had two years of social science, during which we studied the history of Communist ideas…Our clever social sciences teacher conducted lessons so that, along with the history of the French Revolution and the Paris Commune, we became familiar with the history of the European peoples from Ancient Rome to World War I, and while studying the Decembrist movement and 1905 Revolution in detail we were forced to investigate the history of Russia.” Chertok purused his growing interest in electronics, developing a new radio-receiver circuit which earned him a journal publication and an inventor’s certificate. There was also time for skating and dating–“In those strict, puritanical times it was considered inappropriate for a young man of fourteen or fifteen to walk arm in arm with a young woman. But while skating, you could put your arm around a girl’s waist, whirl around with her on the ice to the point of utter exhaustion, and then accompany her home without the least fear of reproach.”

    Chertok wanted to attend university, but “entrance exams were not the only barrier to admission.” There was a quota system, based on social class, and  “according to the ‘social lineage’ chart, I was the son of a white collar worker and had virtually no hope of being accepted the first time around.” He applied anyhow, hoping that his journal publication and inventor’s certificate in electronics would get him in.” It didn’t–he was told, “Work about three years and come back. We’ll accept you as a worker, but not as the son of a white-collar worker.”

    So Chertok took a job as electrician in a brick factory…not much fun, but he was soon able to transfer to an aircraft factory across the river. He made such a good impression that he was asked to take a Komsomol leadership position, which gave him an opportunity to learn a great deal about manufacturing. The plant environment was a combination of genuinely enlightened management–worker involvement in process improvement, financial decentralization–colliding with rigid policies and political interference. There were problems with absenteeism caused by new workers straight off the farm; these led to a government edict: anyone late to work by 20 minutes or more was to be fired, and very likely prosecuted. There was a young worker named Igor who had real inventive talent; he proposed an improved linkage for engine and propeller control systems, which worked out well. But when Igor overslept (the morning after he got married), no exception could be made. He was fired, and “we lost a man who really had a divine spark.”  Zero tolerance!

    Chertok himself wound up in trouble when he was denounced to the Party for having concealed the truth about his parents–that his father was a bookkeeper in a private enterprise and his mother was a Menshevik. He was expelled from the Komsomol and demoted to a lower-level position.  Later in his career, he would also wind up in difficulties because of his Jewish heritage.

    The memoir includes dozens of memorable characters, including:

    *Lidiya Petrovna Kozlovskaya, a bandit queen turned factory supervisor who became Chertok’s superior after his first demotion.

    *Yakov Alksnis, commander of the Red Air Force–a strong leader who foresaw the danger of a surprise attack wiping out the planes on the ground. He was not to survive the Stalin era.

    *Olga Mitkevich, sent by the regime to become “Central Committee Party organizer” at the factory where Chertok was working…did not make a good first impression (“had the aura of a strict school matron–the terror of girls’ preparatory schools”)..but actually proved to be very helpful to getting work done and later became director of what was then the largest aircraft factory in Europe, which job she performed well. She apparently had too much integrity for the times, and her letters to Stalin on behalf of people unjustly accused resulted in her own arrest and execution.

    *Frau Groettrup, wife of a German rocket scientist, one of the many the Russians took in custody after occupying their sector of Germany. Her demands on the victors were rather unbelievable, what’s more unbelievable is that the Russians actually yielded to most of them.

    *Dmitry Ustinov, a rising star in the Soviet hierarchy–according to Chertok an excellent and visionary executive who had much to do with Soviet successes in missiles and space. (Much later, he would become Defense Minister, in which role he was a strong proponent of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.)

    *Valeriya Golubtsova, wife of the powerful Politburo member Georgiy Malenkov, who was Stalin’s immediate successor. Chertok knew her from school–she was an engineer who became an important government executive–and the connection turned out to be very useful. Chertok respected her professional skills, liked her very much, and devotes several pages to her.

    *Yuri Gagarin, first man to fly in space, and Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman.

    *Overshadowing all the other characters is Sergei Korolev, now considered to be the father of the Soviet space program although anonymous during his lifetime.  Korolev spent 6 years in labor camps, having been arrested when his early rocket experiments didn’t pan out; he was released in 1944.  A good leader, in Chertok’s view, though with a bad temper and given to making threats that he never actually carried out.  His imprisonment must have left deep scars–writing about a field trip to a submarine to observe the firing of a ballistic missile, Chertok says that the celebration dinner with the sub’s officers was the only time he ever saw Korolev really happy.

    Chertok’s memoir encompasses the pre-WWII development of the Soviet aircraft industry…early experiments with a rocket-powered interceptor…the evacuation of factories from the Moscow area in the face of the German invasion…a post-war mission to Germany to acquire as much German rocket technology as possible…the development of a Soviet ballistic missile capability…Sputnik…reconnaissance and communications satellites…the Cuban missile crisis…and the race to the moon.

    Some vignettes, themes, and excerpts I thought were particularly interesting:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Big Government, Biography, Leftism, Management, Military Affairs, Russia, Society, Space, Tech, Transportation | 4 Comments »

    Amazon at $15

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd October 2018 (All posts by )

    Amazon is raising the minimum hourly wage for its workers to $15…this includes Whole Foods, it’s not totally clear whether or not it includes contract employees, though I’d assume it does.  Jeff Bezos has also encouraged his competitors to do the same, and indicated that Amazon will lobby for an increase in the Federal minimum wage.

    For discussion:  What will be the impact of this Amazon decision on the retail industry, on American business generally, and on American consumers?

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance | 35 Comments »

    A Reductio ad Absurdum of the “Progressive” Categorization Obsession

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

    Here’s a “lifeboat” exercise for students at an Ohio middle school.  The scenario is that Earth is doomed–a spaceship is escaping, but there is only room for 8 passengers out of the original 12 who were selected.  Students were required to choose who should go and who should stay, based on such descriptive criteria as:

    –“an accountant with a substance abuse problem”
    –“a militant Afro-American medical student”
    –“a female movie star who was recently the victim of a sexual assault”
    –“an Asian, orphaned 12-year-old boy”

    etc etc

    Note that these descriptions are mainly about demographics categories and sexual preferences/behavior/experiences, and about attitudes toward these things.  There’s a little about occupations, not much about skills, and very little indeed about personality and behavior.  We are a long way here from Martin Luther King’s dictum about judging people by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin.

    The above may be a particularly egregious example, but this kind of thinking has become quite common in American universities.  Administrators, along with substantial parts of the faculties and now also the student populations, tend to view people through exactly this kind of lenses.  I’m reminded of the University of Delaware indoctrinator who became rather disturbed when one of his indoctrinees responsed to the question “When were you first made aware of your race?” with  “That is irrelevant to everything. My race is human being” and  “When did you discover your sexual identity?” with “That is none of your damn business”…and, most significantly, responded to  “When was a time you felt oppressed? Who was oppressing you? How did you feel? with this:

    “I am oppressed everyday on basis of my undying and devout feelings for the opera”

    …which elegantly makes the point that people are more than the sum of their demographic categories, and that the things that result in their “oppression” or “privileging” are often things other than those categories.  I greatly admire this young woman’s courage.

    This sort of thing may have started in odd corners of American universities, but has now become one of the defining characteristics of those universities, and has substantially spilled out with toxic effects for the entire society.

     

    Posted in Academia, Leftism, USA | 15 Comments »

    Humor…Machine and Human

    Posted by David Foster on 23rd September 2018 (All posts by )

    There have been some articles lately, in Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal for example, concerning efforts to give Artificial Intelligence systems something resembling a simulated sense of humor.

    Interesting research, perhaps, but at this juncture I’m less concerned above providing a sense of humor for AI systems than maintaining a sense of humor for human beings.  Several professional comedians have commented about the increasing difficulty of doing comedy in an environment of hysterical political correctness.  But even more important is the degree to which fear of denunciation and mobbing seems to be affecting personal life and workplace behavior.

    Effective organizations, at least in this country, have tended to involve a certain level of easy interaction–including kidding around–among people.  What happens when we lose this?

    I suspect that the productivity impact, although hard to measure directly, will be quite significant.  As will the impact on the happiness and mental health of individual humans.

    Posted in Business, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Management | 9 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: The Five-Pound Butterfly Revisited

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

    Several years ago, the WSJ wrote about the tendency of many companies to do hiring based on a long string of highly-specific (and excessively-specific) requirements. One person interviewed remarked that “Companies are looking for a five-pound butterfly. Not finding them doesn’t mean there is a shortage of butterflies.”

    Since that article was written, the five-pound butterfly effect has probably gotten worse rather than better in the business world. (Until very recently–see below.)  But hunting for five-pound butterflies also seems to be increasingly affecting other areas of life, including college admissions and the search for love and marriage.

    First I’ll talk about the five-pound butterfly effect in a business context and then develop its applicability to other areas. The WSJ article mentioned a company that makes automobile bumper parts and was looking for a factory shift supervisor. They eliminated all candidates who didn’t have a BS degree, even though many had relevant experience, and also insisted on experience with the specific manufacturing software that was in use at the plant. It took six months to fill this job (during which time the position was being filled by someone who wouldn’t ultimately be chosen for it.) Another company, Wabtec, which makes components for railcars and buses, insisted on knowledge of a specific version of the computer-aided design system it uses, even though the differences between that version and the earlier version were not all that great.

    And as the article (which focused mainly on engineering jobs) didn’t mention…there were certainly talented salespeople who didn’t get hired this week because they lacked specific experience with the particular sales automation or customer resource management system being used..knowledge that they could have easily picked up during their first week or two on the job.

    As I said in my original post inspired by the WSJ article: It’s a basic reality of life that you can’t optimize everything at once. So, if you insist on a perfect fit for certain things, you are probably getting less of some other attributes–and these may be ones that matter more. I’d personally rather have a salesman who has demonstrated (for example) skill at managing the customer politics in a large and complex sale than one who has specific experience with the Snarkolator CRM system. It’s a lot easier to train for the second than for the first.

    Similarly, if a newly-hired mechanical engineer doesn’t work out, the cause will probably not be his lack of experience with the latest version of a CAD system. More likely, it will be a lack of good design intuition…or poor interpersonal skills…or an inability to integrate mechanical design with electrical and electronics aspects of the same product…or fit with the cultural style of the organization. Maybe he comes from an environment where he was closely supervised, and the new environment is more open and requires more self-starting…or vice versa. These things are not easily represented in “checklist” form, as is knowledge of a specific software package and version, but they matter a lot. The problem with increasingly long lists of requirements is that they tend to shortchange those things that cannot be easily compressed into a yes/no format, and also tend to screen out potential employees whose extreme excellence on certain criteria could well make up for their deficiencies in others.

    Moving from work to love…there are apparently a lot of single people (especially women, it seems) who have developed long checklists for prospective partners. (It’s rumored that one woman had something like 350 items on her “mandatory” list.) As in the work environment, long checklists tend to delay the search..but more important, they can shortchange the factors that matter most. If someone insists on a prospective husband who is an investment banker with a good sense of humor and cooks gourmet meals and really likes kids, then she might, if she is very lucky, eventually find someone who satisfies all these criteria to some degree…but the sense of humor might not be quite as great, and the liking for kids not quite as strong, as if she were willing to compromise on the investment banker and the gourmet meals criteria. (And, of course, there are plenty of factors that operate below the conscious level and can’t be meaningfully represented on a checklist at all.)

    (Update 9/17/18:  There are some indications that, as full employment gets closer, more employers are willing to compromise on educational requirements, and also experience requirements.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Blogging, Education, Human Behavior, Management, USA | 10 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Lewis vs Haldane

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

    J B S Haldane was an eminent British scientist (population genetics) and a Marxist. C S Lewis was…well, you probably already know who C S Lewis was.  In 1946, Haldane published an article critiquing a series of novels by Lewis known as the Ransom Trilogy, and particularly the last book of the series, That Hideous Strength. Lewis responded in a letter which remained unpublished for many of years. All this may sound ancient and estoteric, but I believe the Lewis/Haldane controversy is very relevant to our current political and philosophical landscape.

    In That Hideous Strength–my review is here–Mark, a young sociologist, is hired by a government agency called NICE–the National Institute for Coordinated Experimentation–having as its stated mission the application of science to social problems.  In the novel, NICE turns out to be a conspiracy devoted to very diabolical purposes, as Mark gradually discovers.   See the review for more detail

    Here are some of the highlights of the Lewis/Haldane controversy:

    1)Money and Power. In his article, Haldane attacks Lewis for the latter’s refusal to absolutely condemn usury, and celebrates the fact that “Mammon has been cleared off a sixth of our planet’s surface”…clearly referring to the Soviet Union. Here’s part of Lewis’s response:

    The difference between us is that the Professor sees the ‘World’ purely in terms of those threats and those allurements which depend on money. I do not. The most ‘worldly’ society I have ever lived in is that of schoolboys: most worldly in the cruelty and arrogance of the strong, the toadyism and mutual treachery of the weak, and the unqualified snobbery of both. Nothing was so base that most members of the school proletariat would not do it, or suffer it, to win the favour of the school aristocracy: hardly any injustice too bad for the aristocracy to practise. But the class system did not in the least depend on the amount of pocket money. Who needs to care about money if most of the things he wants will be offered by cringing servility and the remainder can be taken by force? 

    This lesson has remained with me all my life. That is one of the reasons why I cannot share Professor Haldanes exaltation at the banishment of Mammon from ‘a sixth of our planet’s surface’. I have already lived in a world from which Mammon was banished: it was the most wicked and miserable I have yet known. If Mammon were the only devil, it would be another matter. But where Mammon vacates the throne, how if Moloch takes his place? As Aristotle said, ‘Men do not become tyrants in order to keep warm’. All men, of course, desire pleasure and safety. But all men also desire power and all men desire the mere sense of being ‘in the know’ or the ‘inner ring’, of not being ‘outsiders’: a passion insufficiently studied and the chief theme of my story. When the state of society is such that money is the passport to all these prizes, then of course money will be the prime temptation. But when the passport changes, the desires will remain.

    2)Centralized scientific planning. Haldane: “Mr. Lewis’s idea is clear enough. The application of science to human affairs can only lead to hell.” While denying that this is a correct statement of his views, Lewis goes on to say:

    Every tyrant must begin by claiming to have what his victims respect and to give what they want. The majority in most modern countries respect science and want to be planned. And, therefore, almost by definition, if any man or group wishes to enslave us it will of course describe itself as ‘scientific planned democracy.

    and

    My fears of such a tyranny will seem to the Professor either insincere or pusillanimous. For him the danger is all in the opposite direction, in the chaotic selfishness of individualism.  I must try to explain why I fear more the disciplined cruelty of some ideological oligarchy. The Professor has his own explanation of this; he thinks I am unconsciously motivated by the fact  that I ‘stand to lose by social change’. And indeed it would be hard for me to welcome a change which might well consign me to a concentration camp. I might add that it would be likewise easy for the Professor to welcome a change which might place him in the highest rank of an omnicompetent oligarchy. That is why the motive game is so uninteresting. Each side can go on playing—ad nauseam, but when all the mud has been flung every man’s views still remain to be considered on their merits.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Conservatism, Leftism, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Society | 16 Comments »

    Making iPhones in the USA?

    Posted by David Foster on 12th September 2018 (All posts by )

    Trump’s proposed tariff increase on Chinese imports would affect Apple products including the Apple Watch, though apparently not the iPhone itself.  Here is Apple’s response.

    And from President Trump:

    Apple prices may increase because of the massive Tariffs we may be imposing on China – but there is an easy solution where there would be ZERO tax, and indeed a tax incentive. Make your products in the United States instead of China. Start building new plants now. Exciting!

    There has been much discussion for some time about the economic feasibility of building Apple products–especially the iPhone–in the United States, and considerable new commentary in the wake of the tariff controversy.  In 2011, then-President Obama asked Steve Jobs what it would take to make iPhones in the US.  Steve’s response was that, basically, the problems were more about skill levels and cultural factors–in particular, he is said to have mentioned a need for 30,000 manufacturing engineers.

    This strikes me as a very improbable requirement.  Manufacturing engineers are the people who design and improve manufacturing processes:  I can’t imagine why you would need 30,000 of them for all of Apple’s product lines combined, let alone for the iPhone alone.  (It’s possible that the term “manufacturing engineers” was a misquote of what Jobs actually said, or the Jobs was speaking very loosely–indeed, he apparently went on to say that the people in question could be educated in trade schools.  Maybe he meant toolmakers…although also, 30,000 toolmakers sounds like an awful lot for iPhone or indeed all of Apple…or shift supervisors, or something of the sort.

    There was a Quora discussion in 2016 on the topic:  How much would an iPhone cost if Apple were forced to make it in America?  Out of all the responses, which were of various quality, Forbes chose in January of this year to reprint one that seems to me to be rather extreme:  In the $30,000 to $100,000 range…assuming it could be made at all.

    The author quotes Apple CEO Tim Cook on the skills gap between China and the US:

    … the reason is because of the skill … and the quantity of skill in one location … and the type of skill it is. The products we do require really advanced tooling. And the precision that you have to have in tooling and working with the materials that we do are state-of-the-art. And the tooling skill is very deep here.

    In the U.S. you could have a meeting of tooling engineers and I’m not sure we could fill the room. In China you could fill multiple football fields.

    The author says:

    Tooling engineering is a highly skilled position that requires years of training and experience. It is an “analog” type skill that combines artisanal craftsmanship with precision engineering skills. And as Mr. Cook alludes to later in the talk, the Chinese have developed and scaled these skills over the last three decades while the U.S. and other countries have gone the other direction and de-emphasized them.

    (The author also talks about the fact that the iPhone supply chain is now largely centered in the Far East, which is true–but “moving iPhone manufacturing to the US” does not imply that every single component or subcomponent or raw-material element in the periodic table would need to come from the US.)

    It is certainly true that the US over the past couple of decades has deemphasized manufacturing-related skill sets:  but I doubt seriously that the problem is so severe as to make the US manufacturing of a product like iPhone infeasible.  After all, cars and trucks are made in the US, and they involve quite a lot of production engineering and tooling.  Airplanes and jet engines, too, are made here, and I’d expect that the production engineering challenges for a GE or P&W jet engine equal or exceed anything involved with making an iPhone.  And there are plenty of other products and components manufactured in the US as well.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, China, Trump | 36 Comments »

    9/11 Plus Seventeen Years

    Posted by David Foster on 11th September 2018 (All posts by )

    I guess I thought they were all gone, those types of monsters, stranded on reels of black and white film.Cara Ellison (blog no longer available), in a 2007 post about 9/11/01.

    Bookworm:  “My life is divided into two parts:  Before September 11, 2001 and after September 11, 2001.”

    Simply evil: Christopher Hitchens suggests that sometimes the simple and obvious explanation for an event is more accurate than an explanation which relies on an elaborate structure of “nuance”

    An attack, not a disaster or a tragedy. George Savage explains why the persistent use of terms like “tragedy” by the media acts to obfuscate the true nature of the 9/11 attacks.

    Claire Berlinski was in Paris on 9/11. Shortly thereafter she wrote this piece for City Journal

    Marc Sasseville and Heather Penney were F-16 pilots with an Air National Guard squadron. Their order was to bring down Flight 93 before the terrorists in control of it could create another disaster on the scale of the World Trade Center…but their aircraft were configured for training, with no live ammunition and no missiles. A video interview with Major Penney here

    Joseph Fouché writes about how the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in March 2001, and the murder of Ahmed Shah Masood on September 9 of that year, prefigured the 9/11 attacks.

    The Diplomad posts a speech he gave on 9/14/01, when he was charge d’affaires at a U.S. embassy.  You did not hear speeches like that being given by diplomats under the administration of Barack Obama.

    On September 11, 2005, Rare Kate didn’t go to church. Follow the link to find out why. In my original post linking this, I said “What if American and British religious leaders had responded the depradations of Naziism in the spirit of this liturgy?  Actually, some of them did. The impact on preparedness was certainly malign, and the people who took such positions certainly bear a share of moral resposibility for the deaths and devastation that took place. Ditto for those who are behaving in a similar way today.”

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an important leader of the anti-Nazi resistance in Germany (executed in 1945), wrote the following:

    Today there are once more saints and villains. Instead of the uniform grayness of the rainy day, we have the black storm cloud and the brilliant lightning flash. Outlines stand out with exaggerated sharpness. Shakespeare’s characters walk among us. The villain and the saint emerge from primeval depths and by their appearannce they tear open the infernal or the divine abyss from which they come and enable us to see for a moment into mysteries of which we had never dreamed.

    The refusal on the part of many individuals to face the seriousness of the radical Islamist threat to out civilization stems in significant part, I feel certain, from a desire to avoid the uncomfortable and even dangerous kind of clarity that Bonhoeffer was talking about.

    In previous posts I’ve introduced the metaphor of the attrition mill–a machine in which two steel disks, rotating at high speed in opposite directions, crush between them the grain or other substance to be milled. Our society is caught in a gigantic attrition mill, with one disk being the Islamic terrorist enemy and the other being the “progressive” Left within our own societies–some of whom are wishful thinkers who deny uncomfortable realities, an alarming number of whom forthrightly despise their own societies and the majority of their fellow citizens. Without the existence of the second disk, the terrorist threat would be serious, inconvenient, and dangerous, but would not be an existential threat to Western civilization. But it is the interaction of the two disks, despite the differences in their stated philosophies of life, that increases the societal threat by orders of magnitude.

    Monica Crowley digs up an article written on September 19, 2001, by an Illinois State Senator named Barack Obama…and analyzes what it tells us about this man’s worldview and lack of intellectual depth.

    Enid and Geraint…a poem written by Grim on 9/11/2001

    Three Days in September, by Sarah Hoyt

    A time bomb from the Middle Ages. Roger Simon explains how 9/11 altered his worldview and many of his relationships.

     

     

     

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, History, Middle East, Obama, Terrorism, War and Peace | 8 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: That Hideous Strength, by C S Lewis

    Posted by David Foster on 9th September 2018 (All posts by )

    That Hideous Strength, by C S Lewis

    This was the first thing Mark had been asked to do which he himself, before he did it, clearly knew to be criminal. But the moment of his consent almost escaped his notice; certainly, there was no struggle, no sense of turning a corner. There may have been a time in the world’s history when such moments fully revealed their gravity, with witches prophesying on a blasted heath or visible Rubicons to be crossed. But, for him, it all slipped past in a chatter of laughter, of that intimate laughter between fellow professionals, which of all earthly powers is strongest to make men do very bad things before they are yet, individually, very bad men.

    Mark Studdock is a young on-the-make sociologist, a professor at Bracton College, in an English town called Edgestow. He is is far more interested in university politics than in his research or teaching. and as a member of the “progressive element” at the college, he strongly supports Bracton selling a tract of property to a government-sponsored entity called NICE. The NICE is the National Institute for Coordinated Experimentation,which Lewis describes as “the first fruits of that constructive fusion between the state and the laboratory on which so many thoughtful people base their hopes of a better world.”  What excites Mark most about the NICE is this:

    The real thing is that this time we’re going to get science applied to social problems and backed by the whole force of the state, just as war has been backed by the whole force of the state in the past.  One hopes, of course, that it’ll find out more than the old freelance science did, but what’s certain is that it can do more.

    Trigger Warning: There is something in this book to offend almost everybody.  It contains things that will offend technologists and believers in human progress…social scientists…feminists…academic administrators…bioscience researchers…and surely many other categories of people.  It will probably also offend some Christians, for the way in which Christian theology is mixed with non-Christian magic. By the standards now becoming current in American universities, this book, and even this book review, should be read by no one at all.  But for those who do not accept those standards…

    The Basic Story. Mark has recently married Jane, a woman with strong literary interests and with vague plans for getting an advanced degree. She has recently started having disturbing, indeed terrifying, dreams, which suggest that she has a clairvoyant ability to see distant events in real time. Afraid that she is losing her mind, Jane seeks advice, and is told that her dreams are actually visions, they are very real, will not stop, and are of utmost importance:

    “Young lady,” said Miss Ironwood, “You do not at all realize the seriousness of this matter. The things you have seen concern something compared with which the happiness, and even the life, of you and me, is of no importance.”

    Miss Ironwood warns Jane that extremely evil people will seek to use her gift, and that she would do well–both for her own interests and those of the entire human race–to join the community of which Miss Ironwood is a part, located at a place called St Anne’s. Jane responds quite negatively to the invitation, afraid that membership in the St Anne’s group will limit her autonomy. She is not interested in the dreams’ meaning; she just wants them to go away.

    Mark, on the other hand, responds enthusiastically when he is invited to take a position at the NICE, temporarily located at an old manor called Belbury.  One of the first people he meets there is the Head of the Institutional Police, a woman named Miss Hardcastle (picture Janet Napolitano), nicknamed the Fairy, who explains to Mark her theory of crime and punishment:

    “Here in the Institute, we’re backing the crusade against Red Tape.”  Mark gathered that, for the Fairy, the police side of the Institute was the really important side…In general, they had already popularized in the press the idea that the Institute should be allowed to experiment pretty largely in the hope of discovering how far humane, remedial treatment could be substituted for the old notion of “retributive” or “vindictive” punishment…The Fairy pointed out that what had hampered every English police force up to date was precisely the idea of deserved punishment. For desert was always finite; you could do so much to the criminal and no more. Remedial treatment, on the other hand, need have no fixed limit; it could go on till it had effected a cure, and those who were carrying it out would decide when that was.  And if cure were humane and desirable, how much more prevention?  Soon anyone who had ever been in the hands of the police at all would come under the control of the NICE; in the end, every citizen.

    Another person Mark meets in his first days at Belbury is the acclaimed chemist William Hingest…who has also come down to investigate the possibility of a job at Belbury, has decided against it, and strongly advises Mark to do likewise:

    “I came down here because I thought it had something to do with science. Now that I find it’s something more like a political conspiracy, I shall go home. I’m too old for that kind of thing, and if I wanted to join a conspiracy, this one wouldn’t be my choice.”

    “You mean, I suppose, that the element of social planning doesn’t appeal to you? I can quite understand that it doesn’t fit in with your work as it does with sciences like Sociology, but–“

    “There are no sciences like Sociology. And if I found chemistry beginning to fit in with a secret police run by a middle-aged virago who doesn’t wear corsets and a scheme for taking away his farm and his shop and his children from every Englishman, I’d let chemistry go to the devil and take up gardening again…I happen to believe that you can’t study men, you can only get to know them, which is quite a different thing. Because you study them, you want to make the lower orders govern the country and listen to classical music, which is balderdash. You also want to take away from them everything that makes life worth living and not only from them but from everyone except a parcel of prigs and professors.”

    Nevertheless, Mark decides to remain at Belbury, and is drawn ever-deeper into its activities–which, as only those in the innermost circles of that organization realize, are not only consistent with the goals of the 20th-century totalitarianisms, but go considerably beyond them.  The NICE seeks to establish a junction between the powers of modern science and those of ancient magic, accessing the latter by awakening the medieval wizard Merlin and using him for their purposes.  At the same time, Jane–despite her reservations–becomes increasingly involved  with the company at St Anne’s and is entranced with its leader, a Mr Fisher-King. (His name comes from the Wounded King in Arthurian legend.)  The St Anne’s group is aware of the truth about NICE and its ultimate goals, and exists for the primary purpose of opposing and, hopefully, destroying that organization.

    I will not here describe the war between the forces of Belbury and those of St Anne’s (in order to avoid spoilers), but will instead comment on the characters of some of the protagonists and some philosophically-significant events in the novel, with appropriate excerpts. Hopefully this will be enough to give a sense of the worldview that Lewis is presenting in this book.

    Mark Studdock. His character is largely defined by his strong desire to be a member of the Inner Circle, whatever that inner circle may be in a particular context.  The passage at the start of this review where Mark agrees to engage in criminal activity on Belbury’s behalf is proceeded by this:

    After a few evenings Mark ventured to walk into the library on his own; a little uncertain of his reception, yet afraid that if he did not soon assert his right to the entree this modesty might damage him. He knew that the error in either direction is equally fatal.

    It was a success. Before he had closed the door behind him all had turned with welcoming faces and Filostrato had said “Ecco ” and the Fairy, “Here’s the very man.” A glow of pleasure passed over Mark’s whole body.

    That “glow of pleasure” at being accepted by the Belbury’s Inner Circle (what Mark then thinks is Belbury’s Inner Circle) is strong enough to overcome any moral qualms on Mark’s part about the actions he is being requested to perform.  Lewis has written a great deal elsewhere about the lust for the Inner Circle, which in his view never leads to satisfaction but only to a longing for membership in another, still-more-inner circle. In That Hideous Strength, there are concentric Inner Circles at Belbury, which Mark does penetrate–and each is more sinister than the last.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Anglosphere, Arts & Letters, Bioethics, Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Civil Society, Conservatism, Crime and Punishment, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Morality and Philosphy, Political Philosophy | 5 Comments »

    The Phobia(s) That May Destroy America

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd September 2018 (All posts by )

    I posted this piece, which I’ve run a couple of times here, over at Ricochet, in slightly modified form.  A comment thread is developing, if anyone is interested in participating.  (Ricochet comments can be read without membership, but you have to be a member to add comments.)

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 48 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Catalist, “The 480”, and The Real 480

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

    There was much discussion in 2014 of Catalist, a database system being used by the Democratic Party to optimally target their electioneering efforts…see Jonathan’s post here.  I’m reminded of Eugene Burdick’s 1964 novel, The 480.  The book’s premise is that a group within the Republican party acquires the services of a computing company called  Simulation Enterprises, intending to apply the latest technology and social sciences research in order to get their candidate elected.  These party insiders have been inspired by the earlier work of the 1960 Kennedy campaign with a company called Simulmatics.

    Simulmatics was a real company.  It was founded by MIT professor Ithiel de Sola Pool, a pioneer in the application of computer technology to social science research. Data from 130,000 interviews was categorized into 480 demographic groups, and an IBM 704 computer was used to process this data and predict the likely effects of various alternative political tactics.  One question the company was asked to address by the 1960 Democratic campaign, in the person of Robert F Kennedy, was:  How best to deal with religion?  There was considerable concern among some parts of the electorate about the prospect of choosing a Catholic as President.  Would the JFK campaign do better by minimizing attention to this issue, or would they do better by addressing it directly and condemning as bigots those who would let Kennedy’s faith affect their vote?

    Simulmatics concluded that “Kennedy today has lost the bulk of the votes he would lose if the election campaign were to be embittered by the issue of anti-Catholicism.  The simulation shows that there has already been a serious defection from Kennedy by Protestant voters. Under these circumstances, it makes no sense to brush the religious issue under the rug.  Kennedy has already suffered the disadvantages of the issue even though it is not embittered now–and without receiving compensating advantages inherent in it.”  Quantitatively, the study predicted that Kennedy’s direct addressing of the religion issue would move eleven states, totaling 122 electoral votes, away from the Kennedy camp–but would pull six states, worth 132 electoral votes, into the Democratic column.

    It is not clear how much this study influenced actual campaign decision-making…but less than three weeks after RFK received the Simulmatics report, JFK talked about faith before a gathering of ministers in Houston.  “I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end,”  Kennedy said,  “where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind.” (Burdick’s novel also suggests that the Kennedy campaign used Simulmatics to assess the effects of a more-forthright posture on civil rights by the campaign, and furthermore to analyze Kennedy’s optimal personality projection during the debates–I don’t know if these assertions are historically correct, but the religion analysis clearly was indeed performed.)

    Considerable excitement was generated when, after the election, the Simulmatics project became publicly known.  A Harper’s Magazine article referred to to the Simulmatics computer as “the people machine,” and quoted Dr Harold Lasswell of Yale as saying, “This is the A-bomb of the social sciences.  The breakthrough here is comparable to what happened at Stagg Field.”  But Pierre Salinger, speaking for the Kennedy campaign, asserted that “We did not use the machine.”  (Salinger’s statement is called out as a lie in the recent book, The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns.)

    In Burdick’s novel, the prospective Republican candidate is John Thatch, head of an international engineering and construction company.  Thatch has achieved popular renown after courageously defusing a confrontation between Indians and Pakistanis over a bridge his company was building, thereby averting a probable war.  Something about Thatch’s personality has struck the public imagination, and–despite his lack of political experience–he looks to be an attractive candidate.  But initially, the Republicans see little hope of defeating the incumbent Kennedy–“the incumbent is surrounded by over four years of honorific words and rituals,” a psychologist explains.  “He seems as though he ought to be President.  He assumes the mantle.”  This outlook is deeply disturbing to a Republican senior statesman named Bookbinder, who strongly believes that defacto 8-year terms are bad for the country…but if it is true that Kennedy is unbeatable, then the best the Republicans can hope to do is lose as well as possible.  Things change when Kennedy is assassinated and the election becomes a real contest.

    Bookbinder and Levi, another Republican senior statesman, are introduced to Simulation Enterprises by a young lawyer named Madison (Mad) Curver and his psychologist associate (quoted above), a woman named Dr Devlin.  Mad and Dr Devlin explain that what Sim Enterprises does is different from the work done by garden-variety pollsters like the one they have just met, Dr Cotter:

    “The pollster taps only a small fragment of the subject’s mind, attention, background, family influence, and habits.  The Simulations thing, just because it can consider thousands of elements influencing the subject, even things he may not know himself, gets much better results.”

    “And one further thing, Book,” Mad said.  “Simulations Enterprises can predict what people will do in a situation which they have never heard of before.  That was the whole point of the UN in the Midwest example.  No one has gone out there and asked them to vote on whether we should get out of the UN, but Dev outlined a procedure by which you can predict how they will react…if they ever do have to vote on it.

    Again Bookbinder had the sharp sense of unreality.  Unreal people were being asked invented questions and a result came out on green, white-lined paper…and when you got around to the real people six months later with the real question they would act the way the computer had said they would.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Advertising, Book Notes, Elections, History, Human Behavior, Politics, Polls, Predictions, Tech, USA | 18 Comments »

    China, Taiwan, and the Third World

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

    China has been making many investments in third-world countries, often in exchange for resource concessions.  There is growing concern that some of these projects leave the host country with too much debt–indeed, last December, Sri Lanka sold control of its port of Hambantota to a Chinese state-owned company after falling behind in repaying $1.5 billion in loans from Beijing.  Further such situations seem likely.  (See interesting article about Chinese investment in Malaysia here.)

    China has also been accused of using aid and investment funds to influence other countries’ policies toward Taiwan, an accusation that they unsurprisingly deny…and Taiwan is now down to only one diplomatic ally in Africa, the kingdom of eSwatini  (prevously known as Swaziland.)  El Salvador, too, has recently dropped diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

    See also my recent post about Chinese influence efforts targeted at other nations, including the limiting of US film content and the firing of an American employee of Marriott for liking a tweet which offended the regime.

     

     

    Posted in Business, China, Economics & Finance, Transportation | 10 Comments »

    Retrotech, Revitalized

    Posted by David Foster on 24th August 2018 (All posts by )

    A triple-expansion steam engine, which was used for water pumping in Phillipsburg NJ, has been restored to operating condition thanks to a small group of dedicated volunteers.  The engine, which pumped 6 millions gallons per day to a reservoir 265 feet above its level, was built in 1913 and was in continuous operation until 1969, when it was put into standby status (the pumping duties having been taken over by electric pumps) and finally removed from service in 1982.  Here’s a video of its final run in 1982, which has turned out to not be so final.

    The boilers have not yet been restored; test runs were done using a portable commercial rent-a-boiler as the steam source.  The team intends to restore one of the boilers as well in the future.

    When people think about the vast improvements in health and lifespan over the past century and a half, attention tends to be focused on antibiotics, better medical care, x-ray and scanning equipment, etc.  Public water systems, enabled initially by waterwheels and especially by engines like this one, played an important role as well.

    The restoration team has a Facebook page, here.

    See also my posts 301 Years of Steam Power and 175 Years of Transatlantic Steam.

    Posted in Energy & Power Generation, Health Care, History, Tech | 7 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Higher Education, Un(der)employment, and Dissatisfaction

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

    Some thoughts from the great economist Joseph Schumpeter, writing in 1942:

    The man who has gone through a college or university easily becomes psychically unemployable in manual occupations without necessarily acquiring employability in, say, professional work. His failure to do so may be due either to lack of natural ability—perfectly compatible with passing academic tests—or to inadequate teaching; and both cases will . . . occur more frequently as ever larger numbers are drafted into higher education and as the required amount of teaching increases irrespective of how many teachers and scholars nature chooses to turn out.

    The results of neglecting this and of acting on the theory that schools, colleges and universities are just a matter of money, are too obvious to insist upon. Cases in which among a dozen applicants for a job, all formally qualified, there is not one who can fill it satisfactorily, are known to everyone who has anything to do with appointments . . .

    All those who are unemployed or unsatisfactorily employed or unemployable drift into the vocations in which standards are least definite or in which aptitudes and acquirements of a different order count. They swell the host of intellectuals in the strict sense of the term whose numbers hence increase disproportionately. They enter it in a thoroughly discontented frame of mind. Discontent breeds resentment. And it often rationalizes itself into that social criticism which as we have seen before is in any case the intellectual spectator’s typical attitude toward men, classes and institutions especially in a rationalist and utilitarian civilization.

    Well, here we have numbers; a well-defined group situation of proletarian hue; and a group interest shaping a group attitude that will much more realistically account for hostility to the capitalist order than could the theory—itself a rationalization in the psychological sense—according to which the intellectual’s righteous indignation about the wrongs of capitalism simply represents the logical inference from outrageous facts. . . . Moreover our theory also accounts for the fact that this hostility increases, instead of diminishing, with every achievement of capitalist evolution.

    via the WSJ

    Reminds me of Francis Bacon’s assertion…way back in the late 1500s!…that one cause of sedition and mutiny in any polity is “breeding more scholars than preferment can take off.”

    (In the original post, there was also a link to a Theodore Dalrymple excerpt at the old Neptunus Lex site, but I haven’t been able to locate it)

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society | 22 Comments »

    Six Hundred Million Years in K-12

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

    (This post is now an August perennial, in honor of the beginning of the new school year–indeed, many kids have already been in school for 2 or 3 weeks)

    Peter Orszag, who was Obama’s budget director and is now at Lazard, thinks it would be a good idea to cut back on summer school vacations for kids, arguing that this would both improve academics and reduce obesity.

    I’m with Jeremy LottBut to look at the vast wasteland that is American public education — the poor teaching, the awful curriculum, the low standards, the anemic achievement, the institutional resistance to needed reform — and say that the real problem is summer vacation takes a special sort of mind.

    I wrote about the war on summer vacation back in 2006, after stopping at a store in Georgia on the first day of August and discovering that this was the first day of school for the local children.

    The truth is, most public K-12 schools make very poor use of the time of their students. They waste huge proportions of the millions of hours which have been entrusted to them–waste them through the mindless implementation of fads and theories, waste them through inappropriate teacher-credentialing processes, waste them through refusal to maintain high standards of performance and behavior.

    When an organization or institution proves itself to be a poor steward of the resources that have been entrusted to it, the right answer is not to give it more resources to waste.

    Orszag and similar thinkers seem to have no concept that good things can happen to children’s development outside of an institutional setting. Plenty of kids develop and pursue interests in science, literature, art, music…plus, there is plenty to be learned simply by interacting with friends in an unstructured environment.

    Would the world be better off if Steve Wozniak and Jeri Ellsworth..to name only two of many, many examples..had their noses held constantly to the school grindstone rather than having time to develop their interests in electronics?

    Lewis E Lawes, who was warden of Sing Sing prison from 1915 to 1941, wrote an interesting book titled Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing. The title refers to the aggregate lengths of the sentences of the men in the prison at a typical particular point in time.

    Lawes:

    Twenty-five hundred men saddled with an aggregate of twenty thousand years! Within such cycles worlds are born, die, and are reborn. That span has witnessed the evolution of the intelligence of mortal man. And we know that twenty thousand years have seen nations run their courses, perish, and give way to their successors. Twenty thousand years in my keeping. What will they evolve?

    Following the same approach, the aggregate length of the terms to be spent in K-12 schools by their current students is more than 600,000,000 years. What proportion of this time is actually used productively?

    And how many of the officials who supervise and run the public schools, and the ed-school professors who influence their policies, think about this 600,000,000 years in the same serious and reflective way that Lawes thought about the 20,000 years under his supervision? Some do, of course, but a disturbing percentage of them seem to be simply going through the bureaucratic motions.

    And the politicians and officials of the Democratic Party, those who talk so much about their devotion to Education and The Children, are the last people in the world who are ever going to call them on it.

    Posted in Crime and Punishment, Education, Politics, USA | 10 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: The Age of Blather

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

    Diana Senechal, guest-blogging at Joanne Jacobs, told the following story:

    I run two lunchtime literature clubs at my school. The fourth graders just finished reading A Little Princess. During our discussions, I encourage delving into the text and discussing it on its own terms. I am not a big fan of “accountable talk,” “making predictions,” “making connections,” and so forth when they assume precedence over the subject matter itself.

    One student brought up the part where Sara spends her money on hot buns for a beggar girl. “She made a self-to-self connection,” the student said. I felt sorry that students are learning such ghastly terminology, however well meant. Why are students not encouraged to say, “She understood how the girl felt” or “She felt compassion for the girl”?

    Why, indeed? It’s bad enough to impose verbiage like “self-to-self connection” on college students: to do it to a 4th grader is really unforgiveable. It adds nothing to understanding–indeed, it very likely interferes with the true understanding and appreciation of the story by creating an emotional distance.

    Strange, awkward, and unnatural verbal formulations, used ritualistically and without contributing to understanding, are becoming increasingly common in our society: although this phenomenon is arguably at its worst in education, it is by no means limited to that field. These word and phrases are not similar to the traditional jargon of a profession or trade. “Self-to-self connections” is not the same kind of thing as “amp” or even “kanban.”

    Mark Helprin, in an essay about art, writes about people who are so obsessed with their tools and techniques that they lose sight of the substance of the work:

    Modernism is by necessity obsessed with form, much like a craftsman obsessed with his tools and materials. In my climbing days we used to call people like that “equipment weenies.” These days you can see it in fly-fishing, where not a few people go out once a year with $5,000-worth of equipment to catch (maybe) $5-worth of fish. What should have been the story of the man, the stream, and the fish becomes instead a romance between the man and his tools. In this century the same thing happened in art.

    Athough Helprin is talking here about art, but the same excessive focus on methodology is visible in other areas as well.

    Who are the people who perpetrate and cling to these fake-erudite verbal formulations? I suspect that they are generally those who have an education which is extensive–in terms of total years spent in the classroom–but not deep.

    Bruce Fleming, who teaches English at the U.S. Naval Academy, has some interesting thoughts on the teaching/misteaching of literature, which are highly relevant to this topic. Excerpt:

    Literary study in the classroom nowadays offers views of the work of literature rather like the views of Mt. Fuji in Hokusai’s celebrated spring series on “100 Views of Mt. Fuji.” In each view, the mountain, while present, is frequently tiny and in a corner, viewed (in the most famous print) beyond the crest of a wave whose foam seems to make fingers at the edges, or (in another) through a hoop that a barrel-maker is shaping.

    Those are not the front-and-center shots on a postcard. They foreground the angle of the mountain, its treatment, much the way a literature professor does with a funky viewpoint that got him or her tenure. Of course the postcard shot has its own point, but in a real sense it’s more neutral than the angled treatment. It doesn’t push our noses in its approach: It defers to the object it is depicting. We’re far more conscious of the treatment of Mt. Fuji in an artsy Hokusai print than we are in a postcard shot. And that means, we’re all but compelled to see the mountain the way it’s presented, rather than being able to work on our own presentation. That’s why literary studies is intrinsically coercive.

    I think the blatherification of America is an important issue. It inhibits clear thought. It is harmful to the enjoyment of art and of literature. It is destructive of intelligent policy-making in both business and government.

    What say you? Do you agree that blatherification is happening and that it matters? Thoughts on causes and possible countermeasures?

    (links for the Helprin and Fleming quotes removed–no longer working)

    Posted in Academia, Education, Society | 6 Comments »