Chicago Boyz

                 
 
 
What Are Chicago Boyz Readers Reading?
 

 
  •   Enter your email to be notified of new posts:
    Loading
  •   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

  • Archive for the 'Arts & Letters' Category

    History Friday: The Princess Who Went Her Own Way

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 23rd October 2020 (All posts by )

    (History Friday is back – this is part one, of two.)

    She wasn’t actually a princess, through it is the usual understanding that the sons and daughters of a ruling monarch are princes and princesses. But they did things differently in Russia; up until the Russian Revolution, the legitimate offspring of the Tsar were grand dukes or grand duchesses, born to the purple and far outranking mere princes and princesses, who seem to have been, in the Russian scheme of things, merely mid-ranked nobility.

    This grand duchess was named Olga; the youngest of five children of Tsar Alexander III and his wife, the Tsarina Maria Feodorovna, originally Princess Dagmar, daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark. (Her older sister Alix was married to Albert, Prince of Wales.) Born in June, 1882, the infant Olga was not in the most robust of health. Her father as the Tsar of all Russians, and her mother being a veritable whirlwind when it came to duties social and administrative, Olga and her next-oldest brother Michael were raised day to day by governesses and tutors, as was customary for the upper classes. They had a comfortable, but rather Spartan lifestyle at Gatchina, the country palace of the Romanovs. She and her brother slept on plain cots, ate porridge for breakfast, bathed in cold water, rarely saw other children and had daily lessons – and private time for walks in the nearby woods with their formidable father. Olga excelled at painting and sketching – and in fact, for the remainder of her life, most always had a paintbrush in her hand, and as an adult earned a modest living from her watercolors. (a selection of her watercolors is here) Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Deep Thoughts, Diversions, Europe, History | 22 Comments »

    Paint it Black

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 30th September 2020 (All posts by )

    Well, if this isn’t a good reason for a grad student passionately interested in English literature – meaning the study of classic literature written in English (starting with Beowulf and running all the way to Tom Stoppard) to avoid the U of Chicago and embrace a program of self-education then I don’t know what is. It’s akin to being invited to a grand, lavish multi-course banquet and then only allowed a single tiny plate of hors d oeuvres. Which you must consume, and praise lavishly, and not even consider looking over at the main course. Or for another comparison – be fascinated by American pop music all through the 20th century, and then only be permitted to specialize in Motown. Because … reasons. Anyone fascinated by Chaucer or Tin Pan Alley is just plain out of luck, because of systemic racism, and overwhelming whiteness of the culture and the stain of slavery, et cetera, which is usually the reason given. Frankly, I think it’s just momentarily fashionable to Paint everything Black. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Civil Society, Conservatism, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior | 30 Comments »

    Reason #564 To Be Glad …

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 10th August 2020 (All posts by )

    …That I am my own independent publisher, with the Tiny Publishing Bidness, and only wasted a couple of months and a lot of postage, in 2007 or so, trying to get an agent interested in my first two novels. Because that was the way to break into traditional publishing; get an agent, who would present your work to the traditional publishing houses. Another book blogger at the time advised trying it for a year, and then going independent, as there were sufficient small companies doing publish-on-demand, some of them for rather reasonable fees. I did have an interested agent in New York, who was referred to me by another milblogger back then, and although the agent reluctantly declined to offer me his services, he was jolly complimentary and encouraging, and provided some good insights. One of the unspoken insights that I took away from this exchange, and drew from all the other letters saying “Thanks, but no thanks” from various literary agencies was that it was all a terribly insular world, the world of the established agencies and big publishers, all of whom seemed to be based in about half a square mile of real estate in New York. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Diversions, Entrepreneurship, Leftism, Marketing, Personal Narrative | 32 Comments »

    Sgt. Mom’s New Work-in-Progress

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 8th August 2020 (All posts by )

    As mentioned last night in the Chicagoboyz Zoom meetup, I have started a new novel, this one to be set in WWII. I’m stuck for a title, so any suggestions will be gratefully considered.

    The concept for this new project is based on letters between two cousins during the years just prior to and during the war: One is the wife of a civilian internee in Malaya, waiting out the war in Australia, hoping for word that her husband has survived the fall of Singapore and captivity by the Japanese. The other is an Army nurse, eventually sent to North Africa and Italy. (Suggestions for other plot developments will be considered, also.) I am up to four chapters already, and posting excerpts on my book blog.

    Introduction – here.

    The first letter between the cousins, here.

    A bit of narration, here, and here.

    The second letter, here.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Blegs, Book Notes, History | 8 Comments »

    Ephemeral Amusements

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 19th July 2020 (All posts by )

    The Daughter Unit was a little over two years old when we went to live in Greece, and almost kindergarten age when we left, and during that period we lived in a second-floor apartment in suburban Athens and hardly ever watched television. (I had a television set, but it was 110v, and Greece was a 220v country, and anyway, I was almost never at home in the evenings, the exception being when we went to our neighbors to watch Jewel in the Crown when it aired with subtitles on Greek TV.) This was at a time before wide-spread adoption of video players, before cable, way before streaming video. It was, in bald point of fact, rather like the three to five broadcast channels available when I was growing up. So, no, I didn’t miss TV much, and nor did the Daughter Unit, because we had books.

    Heaps and heaps of books; my parents took the opportunity of the Daughter Unit being a military dependent and entitled to have her personal items shipped to Greece gratis to include almost all of the kid-lit that Mom had accumulated for my brothers and sister and I. (Mom and Dad were in the process of moving into a travel trailer parked on the building site of their eventual retirement home, and so took every opportunity to down-size what they didn’t need or want. Like … that part of the personal library.) Off that shipment went to Athens, augmented with new books that I bought through an English mail-order service which offered lovely catalogs aimed mostly at expatriates whiling away the decades in locations devoid of English-language bookstores, and a children’s bookstore in what passed for a mall in Voula or Vouliagmeni, which featured Greek, English and I think German and French-language books. It was a small place, barely one twenty-foot square room in size, with each wall dedicated to a language. I am pretty certain that I bought the Daughter Unit’s favorite comic book series there; the Asterix and Obelix books.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Diversions, Humor, Personal Narrative | 4 Comments »

    Rush Limbaugh Went There.

    Posted by Stephen Karlson on 10th May 2020 (All posts by )

    He was being funny, late on last Thursday’s show, and he came up with this.  “My favorite conspiracy theory is that this virus is the work of a bunch of lunatic billionaires who really believe that we are destroying the planet and they have discovered that we can’t get to Mars in time and we can’t colonize the moon so they have come up with a way to get rid of billions of people to make the world have a longer survivability potential.”  I’ve been referring, recently, to Tom Clancy novels, but I had no plans to go anywhere near Rainbow Six.

    As the novel involves precisely that kind of lunatic billionaire, as well as some clandestine work to shut down the plan and disappear the plotters, because of the risk of “a global panic when people realize what a biotech company can do if it wants,” though, well, perhaps there’s another story in it.

    Regular readers of Tom Clancy know that the likelihood of a secret being blown is proportional to the square of the number of people in on it.  The novel left a number of possible dots to connect to put together yet another story, one with the potential to topple governments.  If I had any sort of novel-writing skills, I might essay such a thing, although it might be more productive to offer some of the dots, as if a mental exercise in quarantine, should anyone wish to essay such an effort.

    There are almost enough dots to make a post as long as a Tom Clancy novel.  They’re below the jump.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Bioethics, Book Notes, COVID-19, Current Events, Diversions, Environment | 20 Comments »

    Ask Not …

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 9th March 2020 (All posts by )

    … whom the woke-mob bays for; it bayeth for thee… to paraphrase John Dunne. As no less than Woody Allan may testify at this point, as the article linked here outlines. So the woke mob claims another scalp; yay, wokesters of New York City Mainstream Publishing Division! Take a bow, having thrown a glorious temper tantrum and bent your employer to your will! Today, Woody Allen – tomorrow? Who knows?! N.K. Jemison, a notoriously woke science fiction writer and beneficiary of the current system, weighed in on behalf of the mob, which is … not a good look for someone dealing in speculative fiction. She is supposed to possess some talent, but again – encouraging the mob, even joining in – not something which a thoughtful person with a sense of events and historical recall ought to do. But never mind.

    Frankly, as far as I am concerned the mainstream publishing establishment, which is centered in New York (as if that wasn’t sufficient punishment) may ride off into the sunset any time now. Words like “incestuous” and “culturally-blind” come to mind, as well as “arrogant” and “exploitative.” Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Business, Diversions, Marketing, Media | 6 Comments »

    Flashy Himself – A Literary Diversion

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 22nd February 2020 (All posts by )

    So it took a link on Powerline last week to bring to my attention that George McDonald Fraser’s first Flashman book came out fifty years ago.

    My, I don’t know how the time flies – but it does. I must have read the first couple of Flashy’s adventures sometime in college, shortly thereafter, and being quite the history nerd even then, they were rowdy enough, and amusing enough that I read most of the rest of them when they came out, even if I had to order them from an English book catalog when I was stationed overseas. I do remember very well reading The General Danced at Dawn, in the back of one of my more boring lecture classes at CSUN and nearly self-strangulating in trying to not laugh uproariously out loud. The professor lecturer would not have been amused – he was a medieval history expert with a thoroughly tedious interest in the most comprehensively boring of early dark age church confabulations and absent any detectable sense of humor.

    My main regret as far as the Flashman series goes is that GMF never wrote of Flashy’s adventures in our own Civil War, which sounded from references in other books, as if Flashman conducted himself in the manner which we came to expect of him – that is, purely and basely devoted to the preservation of his own skin, while dodging, lying, fornicating and back-stabbing on battlefields spread across three continents, as well as hob-nobbing socially or sexually with all sorts of likely participants. As one early reviewer put it, Flashy saw 19th century history briefly over his shoulder as he fled down the corridors of power at high speed. His adventures in our very own Civil War would have been … interesting, although when I touched on this matter before, a reader pointed out that a) Flashy was a British officer and hardly gave a toss as to what we recalcitrant ex-Colonials got up to, and that b) that all our native ACW experts, amateur and professional alike would have made passionate objection to any error or omission, fancied or with historical backing that GMF might have worked into the plot. So, the effort wouldn’t have been worth the candle to him … although I and most of his fans would have loved to read it anyway. Just to see the process by how Flashy got suckered into participation by Abraham Lincoln, fought on both sides, and wound up being pals with George Armstrong Custer and well-acquainted with General Grant, and how many other Civil War notables.

    I myself would have loved to see Flashy entangled in some kind of partnership with Elizabeth Van Lew, the Richmond spy queen, or perhaps a much deeper entanglement with Allan Pinkerton, of the national detective agency … it all would have been great reading, no matter how contentious the fallout might have been with Civil War historians. His take on Robert E. Lee and other Confederate generals would have been interesting, as well. Because GMF had the eye, an absolute gift for writing 19th century dialog, and loved history enough to go into the deep weeds about it all … and most of all, make it interesting to the reader. Pop media is not downhill from culture, it’s in a symbiotic relationship with it. One shapes the other, mutually.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Culture, Diversions, History, Humor, Media, War and Peace | 21 Comments »

    The Goad

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 13th February 2020 (All posts by )

    “…Wake again, Bagheera. For what use was this thorn-pointed thing made?”
    Bagheera half opened his eyes—he was very sleepy—with a malicious twinkle. “It was made by men to thrust into the head of the sons of Hathi, so that the blood should pour out. I have seen the like in the street of Oodeypore, before our cages. That thing has tasted the blood of many such as Hathi.”
    “But why do they thrust into the heads of elephants?”
    “To teach them Man’s Law. Having neither claws nor teeth, men make these things—and worse.” – From The Kings’ Ankus by Rudyard Kipling

    The jeweled elephant goad, the ‘ankus’ of Kipling’s story – was indeed a thing made by men, intended to control elephants; a thing used to threaten and inflict pain, to make the elephant do what the man wielding the ankus do what was commanded. I have begun to think of late that the threat of being called a racist is much the same kind of instrument. It’s a means of control, wielded to enforce silence and obedience. Consider the various local police in English towns and cities, who were so bludgeoned by the threat of being viewed as racists that they turned a blind eye, over and over, and over again, to deliberate and organized grooming and sexual exploitation of white English girls by Pakistani gangsters. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Civil Society, Culture, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior | 4 Comments »

    Books That I Cannot Wait Not to Read

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 4th February 2020 (All posts by )

    Amanda at Mad Genius Club posted last week with some musings on the current publishing scene – er, that is what I took to calling the Literary Industrial Complex, back when I first went indy around 2008 – Indy Publishing that is. When people ask me who my publisher is, I look at them loftily, and reply, “I own the publishing company!” Which I do – a nice little small enterprise that I came into as junior partner, and which the original founder sold to me when she regretfully concluded that she could no longer carry on. We do other authors’ books, as well as my own; regional and small-press stuff, nothing which would ever excite the interest of the Literary Industrial Complex or the minions thereof. No point to it at this late date; as one of the other indy authors I associated with at the time often repeated – “If readers love-love-love the book, they don’t really care who published it.”
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Blogging, Book Notes, Business, Diversions, Immigration | 16 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

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

    It is unwise to let your dislike for certain individuals to run away with you to the point that you publish attacks that can be refuted with a few seconds of research.

    Speaking of publishing dumb things…

    Philosophers and philodoxers

    Thoughts on personal productivity from Marc Andreessen

    This 19th century French philosopher sounds worth reading.  From Tyler Cowen’s summary:

    He explicitly considers the possibility that the rate of scientific innovation may decline, in part because the austere and moral mentality of semi-rural family life, which is most favorable for creativity in his view, may be replaced by the whirlpool of distractions associated with the urban lifestyles of the modern age.

    The 10 worst colleges for free expression…the 2020 edition.

    Using albatrosses to track down illegal fishing boats.  A little advice for the captains of those boats: do not, under any circumstances, shoot an albatross.

    France’s most beautiful stained-glass windows

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Christianity, Media, Philosophy, Poetry, Politics, Society | 13 Comments »

    Business Stories

    Posted by David Foster on 8th December 2019 (All posts by )

    We’ve talked before here about the point that most fiction seems to be about people who are lawyers, policemen, criminals, soldiers, spies, students, politicians, and noble but struggling writers. But there are indeed some works of fiction, and some vivid personal memoirs, in which business plays a central role without being portrayed simplistically or as stereotypically evil. Here are some that I like…please add your own favorites in the comments.  (I posted this at Ricochet, in slightly different form, about a week ago)

    The Current War, a recent movie about the late-1800s power struggle to determine which technology…AC or DC…will dominate America’s electrical distribution system. Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla are the key characters, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, and Nicholas Hoult respectively. My review is here.

    The Big Short, a 2015 film about the 2007-2008 financial crisis, based on Michael Lewis’s book. A hedge fund manager concludes that the subprime-loan market is not sustainable, and makes a billion-dollar bet against the relevant mortgage-backed securities. Based on real events. I thought it was very well done.

    God is an Englishman, R F Delderfield. Following his return to England from the Crimean War, Adam Swann identifies a business opportunity: although railroads are being built throughout the country, there will always be sources and destinations of freight which are not on the tracks. Hence, the potential for a nationwide gap-filling road haulage business based on the systematic use of horse-drawn wagons. (This is the first book of a three-book series called the Swann Family Saga.)  Reviewed here.

    Oil for the Lamps of China, Alice Tisdale Hobart. This 1933 novel is about a young American working as a sales rep in China, focused on selling oil for his employer (unnamed, but clearly based on Standard Oil) and increasing volumes by promoting the kerosene lamp as a better alternative to traditional lighting methods. The book was the basis for a 1935 movie of the same name…the film has its moments, but overall is not worthy of the book.

    Father, Son, and Company, by Thomas Watson Jr. This is the best business autobiography I’ve read. It’s about Watson Jr (the long-time CEO of IBM), his difficult relationship with his father, the company they built, and the emergence of the computing industry. It is an emotional, reflective, and self-critical book, without the kind of “here’s how brilliant I was” tone that afflicts too many executive autobiographies. I reviewed it here.

    A Man in Full, by Tom Wolfe. The central character of this 1988 novel is Charlie Croker, an Atlanta real-estate developer who has gotten himself into way too much debt. Other characters include Charlie’s current and former wives, the Black mayor of Atlanta, the bankers who must deal with the debt problem, and a warehouse worker at one of the Croker enterprises. The book also casts a not-very-complimentary light on the Atlanta society/arts scene.

    Trial by Fire, Stephen Buck. The adventures of a Honeywell field engineer in the early days of process-control computing. The book’s title reflects the point that the industrial processes being controlled frequently involved combustion, sometimes in scary circumstances. Much of the author’s work took place outside the US, in countries ranging from Poland to Brazil.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Aviation, Biography, Book Notes, Britain, Business, Economics & Finance, Film, Tech, Transportation, War and Peace | 8 Comments »

    Crusade

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 5th November 2019 (All posts by )

    A bit of a loaded word, isn’t it? But a label that American anti-slavery activists would have felt entirely comfortable with, in the first half of the 19th century. Such was the knowledge that taking up the cross of a cause could be hazardous, indeed – but the fight was for the right, and the eventual prize was worth it and more; the promise that every man (and by implication, every woman as well) had a right to be free. Not a slave, as comfortable as that situation might be to individuals – but to be free, answering only to ones’ conscience, as was expressed in the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, never mind that one might have varying degrees of success in that pursuit – one had the right to decide how to go about it, in whatever method and manner than one chose. One had the right to not be property, as if an ox or a horse.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Anti-Americanism, Arts & Letters, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, History, Media, Politics | 27 Comments »

    Chinese Chequers and Other Spectator Games

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 17th October 2019 (All posts by )

    The irony of very well-recompensed nominally-American basketball players of color reacting with wild indignation to American criticism of China with regard to heavy-handed treatment of citizens of Tibet and residents of Hong Kong is of a density so thick and heavy that it threatens to drop through the core of the earth and come out the other side. This of course, after months of rather public displays by professional athletes of color making a big thing of knee-taking and demonstrations of disapproval during the playing of the American national anthem at the start of various games. This cheap display of woke-virtue sporting world division may already have sunk the National Football League, in the minds and hearts of those fans of football in Flyoverlandia-America. I suppose now we can look forward to seeing the same fatal holed-below-the-waterline-and-sinking-fast pattern in the round-bouncy-ball franchise; honestly, it’s as if the NBA is basically saying, “Hold my beer and watch this!” Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Business, China, Current Events, Customer Service, Film, Media | 16 Comments »

    Summer Rerun–Book Review: Little Man, What Now?, by Hans Fallada

    Posted by David Foster on 14th September 2019 (All posts by )

    Little Man, What Now?

    (edited, with updates)

    I’ve often seen this 1932 book footnoted in histories touching on Weimar Germany; not having previously read it I had been under the vague impression that it was some sort of political screed. Actually it is a novel, and a good one. The political implications are indeed significant, but they’re mostly implicit rather than explicit.

    Johannes and Emma, known to one another as Sonny and Lammchen, are a young couple who marry when Lammchen unexpectedly becomes pregnant. Their world is not the world of Weimar’s avant-garde artists and writers, or of its risque-to-outright-degenerate cabaret scene. It is far from the world of a young middle-class intellectual like Sebastian Haffner, whose invaluable memoir I reviewed here. Theirs is the world of people at the absolute bottom of anything that could be considered as even lower-middle-class, struggling to hold on by their fingernails.

    When we first meet our protagonists, Sonny is working as a bookkeeper–he was previously a reasonably-successful salesman of men’s clothing, working for the kindly Jewish merchant Mr. Bergmann, but a pointless quarrel with Bergmann’s wife, coupled with a job offer from the local grain merchant (Kleinholz) led to a career change. Sonny soon finds that as a condition of continued employment he is expected to marry Kleinholz’s ugly and unpleasant daughter, never an appealing proposition and one which his marriage to Lammchen clearly makes impossible. Lammchen is from a working-class family: her father is a strong union man and Social Democrat who sees himself as superior to lower-tier white-collar men like Sonny.

    When Sonny and Lammchen set up housekeeping, their economic situation continually borders on desperate. Purchasing a stew pot, or indulging in the extravagance of a few bites of salmon for dinner, represents a major financial decision. An impulsive decision on Sonny’s part to please Lammchen by acquiring the dressing table she admires will have long-lasting consequences for their budget.

    The great inflation of Weimar has come and gone; the psychological damage lingers. Sonny and Lammchen’s landlady cannot comprehend what happened to her savings:

    Young people, before the war, we had a comfortable fifty thousand marks. And now that money’s all gone. How can it all be gone?…I sit here reckoning it up. I’ve written it all down. I sit here, reckoning. Here it says: a pound of butter, three thousand marks…can a pound of butter cost three thousand marks?…I now know that my money’s been stolen. Someone who rented here stole it…he falsified my housekeeping book so I wouldn’t notice. He turned three into three thousand without me realizing…how can fifty thousand have all gone?

    Inflation is no longer the problem, unemployment is. There are millions of unemployed, and those who do hold jobs are desperately afraid of losing them and will do anything to keep them.

    Both Sonny and Lammchen are limited and flawed people with many redeeming and even lovable attributes. Sonny, possibly as a result of upbringing by his cold and sleazy mother, is lacking in a sense of worth and in self-confidence–when he returns to the business of selling menswear, the store’s establishment of a quota system (apparently a radical innovation at the time) is so stressful to him as to greatly harm his sales performance. His devotion to Lammchen and to the coming baby (“the Shrimp”) is unshakable and keeps him going. Lammchen herself, despite her generally sweet nature, can on occasion be a irrational, unrealistic, and very unfair to Sonny, although these episodes are of short duration.

    In pursuit of possible employment for Sonny, they move to Berlin, where life definitely does not get any better. Germany’s vaunted social-welfare system does provide a certain amount of help for the couple, but there is a psychic cost. When they apply for the nursing-mother allowance to which Lammchen is clearly entitled when Shrimp is born, they find themselves enmeshed in a bureaucratic paperwork nightmare. They finally do get the money, but Lammchen is so upset by the experience that she resolves to vote Communist in the next election. (Yeah, that’ll help.) Sonny does receive compensation during his periods of unemployment, but this does little to ease his feeling of uselessness and fears for the future. After finally getting hired by Mandel’s Department Store, he passes a group of still-unemployed men:

    Pinneberg had the feeling, despite the fact that he was about to become a wage-earner again, that he was much closer to those non-earners than to people who earned a great deal. He was one of them, any day he could find himself standing here among them, and there was nothing he could do about it. He had no protection. He was one of millions.

    Despite the social safety net, despite a few helpful friends and acquaintances, the dominant feeling of Sonny and Lammchen is that they are utterly alone in the world, like children in a dark wood or like American pioneers on the great plains–but without the hope.

    Neither Sonny nor Lammchen is a very political person, but they have the strong feeling that “the system” is rigged against them. While Lammchen does make an anti-Semitic remark early in the book (“I’m not too keen on Jews”), neither she nor Sonny seems to be among the growing number who blame Germany’s Jews for their economic difficulties–indeed, Sonny is appalled when a Jewish businesswoman tells him of her mistreatment at the hands of Jew-haters. The couple’s (rather vague) political leanings are to the Left, and they attribute the source of their problems to the rich and the powerful generically. They have no faith in the political system or leadership.

    Ministers made speeches to him, enjoined him to tighten his belt, to make sacrifices, to feel German, to put his money in the savings-bank and to vote for the constitutional party. Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t, according to the circumstances, but he didn’t believe what they said. Not in the least. His innermost conviction was: they all want something from me, but not for me.

    Of Lammchen’s political views, the author says:

    She had a few simple ideas: that most people are only bad because they have been made bad, that you shouldn’t judge anybody because you never know what you would do yourself, that the rich and powerful think ordinary people don’t have the same feelings as they do–that’s what Lammchen instinctively believed, though she hadn’t thought it out.

    Sonny is resolved to succeed in his sales job at Mandel’s department store, and is greatly helped by an older salesman, the very dignified Mr. Heilbutt, who possesses both practical sales skills and general life skills that Sonny has not yet developed. For the most part, though, the relationship among store employees is of a dog-eat-dog, knife-in-the-back nature, and some of the customers are very difficult–like the man who comes into the store accompanied by his wife AND his sister AND his mother-in-law, with vociferous opinions about each item from the first two women and a constant repetition of the complaint we-should-have-gone-to-a-different-store from the mother-in-law.

    When Sonny again becomes unemployed, this time for a protracted period, Lammchen is able to bring in a little money by doing sewing for more-affluent families, while Sonny takes on the role of a house-husband. The author implies that this situation has become common in Germany, as Lammchen asks:

    What d’you think, Mr Jachmann? D’you think it’s going to be like this from now on with the men at home doing the housework while the women work? It’s impossible.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Big Government, Book Notes, Civil Liberties, Economics & Finance, Film, Germany, History | 4 Comments »

    Summer Rerun–Are We Living at the Intersection of These Two Stories?

    Posted by David Foster on 12th September 2019 (All posts by )

    The first story is Robert Heinlein’s The Year of the Jackpot.  A consulting statistician with the unlikely name of Potiphar Breen observes that many strange social trends are on a strong upswing.  One such trend:  young women removing all their clothes in public.  Potiphar sees one such disrobing in process, shoos away the police, covers the girl with his raincoat, then takes her home and asks her why she did it.  She doesn’t know.

    Potiphar informs her that nine other girls have done the same thing, in Los Angeles alone, on that very day…and goes on to tell her that this is a small part of the overall pattern of increasing craziness that he is observing.  A man has sued an entire state legislature for alienation of his wife’s affections–and the judge is letting the suit be tried.  In another state, a bill has been introduced to repeal the laws of atomic energy–not the relevant statutes, but the natural laws concerning nuclear physics. Potiphar shows the girl (her name is Meade) the graphs on which he has plotted the outbreak of bizarre things over time, and notes that many different indicators, all with different cycles, are all converging in this very year.  Still, Meade wants to look at her disrobing episode on an individual basis:  “I want to know why I did what I did!”

    “I think we’re lemmings, Meade,” Potiphar says.  “Ask a lemming why he does it.  If you could get him to slow up his rush to death, even money says he would rationalize his answer as well as any college graduate.  But he does it because he has to–and so do we.”  When Meade tries to defend free will–“I know I have it–I can feel it”, Potiphar continues with another analogy:  “I imagine every little neutron in an atom bomb feels the same way.  He can go spung! or he can sit still, just as he pleases.  But statistical mechanics works out anyhow.  And the bomb goes off.”

    As Meade and Potiphar become romantically involved, Potiphar’s indices of bizarre behavior and events continue to climb. Transvestism by draft-dodgers has resulted in a mass arrest in Chicago and a gigantic mass trial–but the (male) prosecutor shows up in a pinafore.  At the All Souls Community Church of Springfield, the pastor has reinstituted ceremonial nudity.  Two weeks later, a hundred and nine other churches have announced the same policy.  California is suffering a major water crisis, but people continue watering their lawns as usual.  Hardly anyone is interested in the upcoming Republican and Democratic conventions; all the excitement is about the revived Know-Nothing party.

    Foreign affairs, too, are disintegrating into chaos…topped off by a nuclear exchange.  Meade and Potiphar manage to survive, and Potiphar’s cycle charts seem to indicate that things will soon get better…(read the story to see how it comes out.)

    The fictional events of Heinlein’s Year of the Jackpot (set in 1952–it was written in 1947) don’t seem any more bizarre than the kind of headline stories that we are seeing every day in real-life:

    College students cry ‘racism’ when served ‘culturally-incorrect cuisine’ in the cafeteria

    The “Queen of YouTube, famous for eating cereal out of a bathtub of milk that she was bathing in , is granted interviews by both the sitting President and the leading democratic contender

    Woman loses her job and is threatened with having her children taken away, because she let her three sons (11,9,and 5) play by themselves in a playground next to her apartment building.

    Seven-year-old boy suspended from school for chewing a breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun

    Previously-male person selected as Woman of the Year

     

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, France, Human Behavior, Leftism, USA | 7 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Jeff Sypeck’s Gargoyle Poems

    Posted by David Foster on 25th August 2019 (All posts by )

    …which were inspired by the gargoyles of the Washington National Cathedral, were published in book form in 2012.  I was reminded of these poems by the dreadfully destructive fire at Notre Dame.

    The book includes 53 poems accompanied by black-and-white photos of the gargoyles and grotesques. These poems are really good…one of my favorites is  A Mother Consoles her Daughter.

    You can get the book via the usual on-line sources, the National Cathedral Store, or directly from Jeff’s blog, at this page.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Christianity, History, Poetry | Comments Off on Summer Rerun: Jeff Sypeck’s Gargoyle Poems

    Summer Rerun: Metaphors, Interfaces, Memes, and Thinking

    Posted by David Foster on 20th August 2019 (All posts by )

    This rerun of an earlier post (slightly reworked) was inspired by a comment by MCS at this post:

    We are now living in the first post-literate society where the masses will be directed by rumor. Memes will take the place of reasoned discussion.

    Neal Stephenson wrote In the Beginning was the Command Line, a strange little book which would probably be classified under the subject heading “computers.”  While the book does deal with human interfaces to computer systems, its deeper subject is the impact of media and metaphors on thought processes and on work.

    Stephenson contrasts the explicit word-based interface with the graphical or sensorial interface. The first (which I’ll call the textual interface) can be found in a basic UNIX system or in an old-style PC DOS system or timesharing terminal. The second (the sensorial interface) can be found in Windows and Mac systems and in their respective application programs.

    As a very different example of a sensorial interface, Stephenson uses something he saw at Disney World–a hypothetical stone-by-stone reconstruction of a ruin in the jungles of India. It is supposed to have been built by a local rajah in the sixteenth century, but since fallen into disrepair.

    The place looks more like what I have just described than any actual building you might find in India. All the stones in the broken walls are weathered as if monsoon rains had been trickling down them for centuries, the paint on the gorgeous murals is flaked and faded just so, and Bengal tigers loll among stumps of broken columns. Where modern repairs have been made to the ancient structure, they’ve been done, not as Disney’s engineers would do them, but as thrifty Indian janitors would–with hunks of bamboo and rust-spotted hunks of rebar.

    In one place, you walk along a stone wall and view some panels of art that tell a story.

    …a broad jagged crack runs across a panel or two, but the story is still readable: first, primordial chaos leads to a flourishing of many animal species. Next, we see the Tree of Life surrounded by diverse animals…an obvious allusion (or, in showbiz lingo, a tie-in) to the gigantic Tree of Life that dominates the center of Disney’s Animal Kingdom…But it’s rendered in historically correct style and could probably fool anyone who didn’t have a PhD in Indian art history.

    The next panel shows a mustachioed H. sapiens chopping down the Tree of Life with a scimitar, and the animals fleeing every which way. The one after that shows the misguided human getting walloped by a tidal wave, part of a latter-day Deluge presumably brought on by his stupidity.

    The final panel, then, portrays the Sapling of Life beginning to grow back, but now man has ditched the edged weapon and joined the other animals in standing around to adore and praise it.

    Clearly, this exhibit communicates a specific worldview, and it strongly implies that this worldview is consistent with traditional Indian religion and culture. Most viewers will assume the connection without doing further research as to its correctness or lack thereof.

    I’d observe that as a general matter, the sensorial interface is less open to challenge than the textual interface. It doesn’t argue–doesn’t present you with a chain of facts and logic that let you sit back and say, “Hey, wait a minute–I’m not so sure about that.” It just sucks you into its own point of view.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Blogging, Book Notes, Deep Thoughts, Film, Human Behavior, Internet, Obama, Tech | 9 Comments »

    Adventures in the Indy Author Trade

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 11th June 2019 (All posts by )

    The Daughter Unit and I spent most of Saturday morning in the lovely little town of Wimberley, Texas. Wimberley is situated on a particularly scenic stretch of the Blanco River, in the hills to the west of San Marcos. It’s closer to Austin than to San Antonio and seems to have become even more of a weekend tourist draw, since we first visited it in the late 1990ies. Then there were just a handful of little shops catering to tourists, and one restaurant with had memorable hamburgers and an outside deck which overlooked the riverbank, all grown with cypress trees, great and green. There were a fair number of hippie artisan types; potters, glass-blowers, metal-fabricators and the like, plus the usual number of antique shops, which tended more towards the ‘quaint old country junk’ side of the scale. On the first Saturday of the month, Wimberley stages a mammoth open-air market – something we’ve been to a number of times. It’s supposed to be the oldest and biggest one in Texas.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Business, Miscellaneous, Texas | 4 Comments »

    6 June 1944

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 6th June 2019 (All posts by )

    (a reprise post from The Daily Brief – and re-posted here, now and again)

    So this is one of those historic dates that seems to be slipping faster and faster out of sight, receding into a past at such a rate that we who were born afterwards, or long afterwards, can just barely see. But it was such an enormous, monumental enterprise – so longed looked for, so carefully planned and involved so many soldiers, sailors and airmen – of course the memory would linger long afterwards.

    Think of looking down from the air, at that great metal armada, spilling out from every harbor, every estuary along England’s coast. Think of the sound of marching footsteps in a thousand encampments, and the silence left as the men marched away, counted out by squad, company and battalion, think of those great parks of tanks and vehicles, slowly emptying out, loaded into the holds of ships and onto the open decks of LSTs. Think of the roar of a thousand airplane engines, the sound of it rattling the china on the shelf, of white contrails scratching straight furrows across the moonless sky.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Deep Thoughts, Europe, History, Military Affairs, Reruns | 2 Comments »

    Dissolving the Audience

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 31st May 2019 (All posts by )

    So, I’ve been following, in a desultory fashion, the kerfuffle over various movie projects suddenly discovering that filming in a state where the local voters and their legislature prefer putting limits on the availability of abortion is … OMG! The Handmaids’ Tale is upon us! Flee, Flee for your lives, those TV series and movies choosing to shoot in lower-cost states than California (where about every scenic local has been seen in the background many a time. It was, once a upon a time, my private amusement, in spotting familiar locations in and around Los Angeles appearing in popular TV series.) Geeze, it’s almost as if among the Hollywood glitterati the need for abortion services occurs at least once a month and twice on Sundays. Given the various reports of disgusting rapey-sexual conduct among producers and directors (mostly male) perpetuated upon (mostly but not exclusively) female performers, perhaps on-command abortion services might be required at that. Funny old thing that – these are the same producers and organizations who have no problem filming in foreign countries with even stricter limits on abortion. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Business, Civil Society, Conservatism, Current Events, Film, Leftism, Media | 18 Comments »

    Book Review: The Caine Mutiny

    Posted by David Foster on 18th May 2019 (All posts by )

    The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk

    —-

    (reposted in honor of Herman Wouk, who died yesterday at the age of 103)

    Just about everyone has seen the movie based on this book, featuring Humphrey Bogart’s famous performance as Captain Queeg.  The movie is indeed excellent–the book is even better, and contains a lot that is absent from the film.  And while the film ends basically after the court-martial scene, the book continues to follow the USS Caine and  key characters for the duration of the war.  In this review, I won’t worry about spoilers re plot elements that were included in the movie, but will try to minimize them as far as other aspects of the book are concerned. After summarizing the story, I’ll comment on some of the issue raised by the book. (A 2005 article, referencing The Caine Mutiny, refers to Wouk as “the first neoconservative.”)

    Lieutenant Commander Philip Queeg, a rigid and insecure man, is appointed during WWII to the command of Caine, a decrepit old destroyer-minesweeper…the ship and its slovenly-appearing crew are described as being part of the  “hoodlum navy.”  This is Queeg’s first command, and he is desperately concerned to make it a success, deeply afraid of making a mistake which will lead to his failure.  Ironically, it is specifically this fear of failure and perceived need for perfection which is responsible for many, perhaps most, of his troubles. When Caine runs aground the first time Queeg takes her out, he fails to submit the required grounding report for fear of higher authority’s reaction. When the ship cuts her own towline while assigned to target-towing duty, Queeg cannot make up him mind whether or not to attempt recovery of the drifting target–and radios in for instructions.  Incidents like these do not inspire confidence in Queeg on the part of his superiors.

    The officers and crew of Caine also lose confidence in the captain as his obsessive-compulsive behavior becomes increasingly problematic.  As a result of several incidents during combat, there are also concerns about Queeg’s personal courage. While no one aboard Caine likes Queeg once they get to know him, the captain’s most vocal critic is an officer named Thomas Keefer, an intellectual who is an aspiring novelist. Keefer has a cynical attitude toward the Navy, which he refers to as “a master plan designed by geniuses for execution by idiots,” and advises Willie Keith, a young officer who is his subordinate,  that “If you’re not an idiot, but find yourself in the Navy, you can only operate well by pretending to be one.”

    The ship’s executive officer is Steve Maryk. In civilian life a commercial fisherman, Maryk now hopes to make the Navy his career. Maryk is a fine seaman and a good leader, but not a highly-educated man–he is somewhat in awe of Tom Keefer’s intellectual attainments.

    In repeated conversations, Keefer tells Maryk that the captain must be mentally ill, using psychological jargon and concepts that Maryk does not pretend to understand. Maryk is concerned enough about Queeg’s behavior that he begins keeping a “medical log” on Queeg, with the idea of presenting this to higher authority if necessary and possible. The time seems right when Caine shares an anchorage with the battleship carrying Admiral Halsey:  Maryk takes his log, takes Keefer in tow, and heads over to the New Jersey to see if they can speak with the Admiral.  But Keefer, at the last moment, chickens out, asserting that Halsey, with his experience aboard large well-managed ships, would never be able to understand the state of things aboard a hoodlum-navy ship like Caine, and that raising the issue with him would only get the two of them in trouble.  Feeling unable to make the case without support, Maryk gives up on talking to Halsey and the two officers return to Caine.

    But soon thereafter, the old ship encounters a typhooon. Fleet course is 180 degrees, due south–away from the wind–and Queeg refuses to adopt the safer course of heading into the wind even though communication with other ships, as well as radar contact, has been lost.

    An unbelievably big gray wave loomed on the port side, high over the bridge. It came smashing down. Water spouted into the wheelhouse from the open wing, flooding to Willie’s knees. The water felt surprisingly warm and sticky, like blood. “Sir, we’re shipping water on the goddamn bridge!” said Maryk shrilly. “We’ve got to come around into the wind!”

    “Heading 245, sir.” Stilwell’s voice was sobbing. “She ain’t answering to the engines at all, sir!”

    The Caine rolled almost completely over on its port side.  Everybody in the wheelhouse except Stilwell went sliding across the streaming deck and piled up against the windows.  The sea was under their noses, dashing up against the glass.  “Mr Maryk, the light on this gyro just went out!” screamed Stilwell, clinging desperately to the wheel.  The wind howled and shrieked in Willie’s ears.  He lay on his face on the deck, tumbling around in salt water, flailing for a grip at something solid.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, History, Human Behavior, Management, Military Affairs, Nautical Book Project, Reruns, Transportation | 9 Comments »

    The Great Othering

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 24th April 2019 (All posts by )

    Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings. – Heinrich Heine

    This last week there was a mild kerfuffle in the world of those bloggers who love and often write books, and who also love history. This was caused by a marginally-literate screed published on a personal blog by one Sofia Leung, who professes to be a feminist and a librarian of the totally-woke/social-justice/critical-race-theory variety. Said screed was amplified in the twitter feed of the Library Journal, until the tweet was deleted, (possibly at the urging of someone with a lick of sense and professionalism). I suspect that the Library Journal is a publication which was once much more respected and authoritative; like Time, Newsweek, Scientific American, Harper’s, Smithsonian and National Geographic once were, before being overtaken in a flood of semi-coherent woke/social-justice/critical-race-theory nonsense. Quoth Ms. Leung –

    “Library collections continue to promote and proliferate whiteness with their very existence and the fact that they are physically taking up space in our libraries. They are paid for using money that was usually ill-gotten…”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Conservatism, Deep Thoughts | 22 Comments »

    Movie Considerations & The Highwaymen

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 11th April 2019 (All posts by )

    After reading a couple of favorable reviews of The Highwaymen at blogs that I am usually given to trust, I took a flyer on watching the movie – streaming video, of course, on my home computer. I can count the number of movies that I have made a deliberate effort to see in a theater over the last couple of years on the fingers of one hand and … well, wow. Just wow. Kevin Costner isn’t any Kenneth Branagh, or even a John Wayne – but he can act, especially given an intelligent and nuanced script, spare and understated direction, and production values not dependent on flashy special effects. Woody Harrelson may personally be nuttier than squirrel poop – but he also can act. Like Jimmy Stewart did before them – they are better and more interesting playing older, more grizzled characters then they were as smooth-faced young studs. So – The Highwaymen is a retelling of the hunt for and final ambush of gangsters Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, glamorized beyond practically all recognition in the 1968 movie. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Crime and Punishment, Diversions, Film, Texas | 40 Comments »

    Movie Review: “O”

    Posted by David Foster on 5th April 2019 (All posts by )

    (This is a rerun of a post from 2010–I was reminded of this movie by Paula Marantz Cohen’s WSJ article about teaching ‘Othello’)

    Odin James–“O”–is a high-school basketball star. His friend Hugo also plays for the team, though not on O’s level. When O singles out another player–Michael–for special recognition, Hugo’s already-high jealously level reaches a fever pitch.

    Roger, a wealthy but awkward and widely-disliked student, is hopelessly in love with O’s girlfriend, Desi. Hugo enlists him in a plot which he sells to Roger as a way of luring Desi away from O…but his real intent is to destroy both O and Michael, with Desi as collateral damage.

    Does the plot sound a little bit familiar?

    This is, of course, “Othello,” set in an American prep school instead of in Venice, and with the title character as an athlete rather than a military commander.

    O is Othello (Mekhi Phifer)
    Desi is Desdemona (Julia Stiles)
    Hugo is Iago (Josh Hartnett)
    Roger is Rodrigo (Elden Henson)
    Michael is Michael Casio (Andrew Keegan)
    Emily is Emilia (Rain Phoenix)
    The basketball coach, nicknamed “Duke,” is the Duke (Martin Sheen)

    No attempt is made to use Shakespearean language, which was probably a wise decision. While this adaptation may sound contrived from the above description, I think it actually works very well. (The film was released in 2001.)

    There are a few interesting differences between the film and the original play, as well as some interesting angles for transforming Renaissance Venice into a modern high school:

    (1)In the movie, Hugo/Iago is the coach’s son, which plays an important role in his jealousy of O/Othello. There is no such relationship or motivation in the play.

    (2)In the play, Iago’s hate of Othello and of Michael Casio is driven largely by Othello’s decision to choose Casio, rather than Iago, as his principal lieutenant. The recognition/elevation of Michael is also an important factor in the movie–however, in the play, Othello’s promotion decision is based largely on factors which Iago, with some justice, sees as extraneous: book-learning and family/social connections rather than combat experience. Hugo/Iago suffers from no such social-class disadvantage in the movie.

    (3)In the play, Iago convinces Othello that he, Iago, understands more about the true nature of Venetian women than Othello the Moor–an outsider to Venice–possibly can, and that hence, Othello had better listen to Iago’s advice. In the movie, this turns into an assertion by Hugo that O…the only African-American in the school…needs to pay attention to Hugo’s greater experience with white women (“They are all horny snakes,” he warns O.)

    (4)In the play, Michael Casio is portrayed in a very positive way. In the film, he comes across as more than a bit of a jerk.

    (5)Like the play, the movie ends with the murder of Desi and Emily/Emilia and the suicide of O/Othello…but whereas in the play, Michael survives and is designated as Governor at the end, in the movie he is shot and it is left ambiguous whether or not he survives. I think Shakespeare perhaps intended the elevation of Michael Casio at the end to symbolize the continuity of society and of proper authority: there is no such symbolism in the film. The ending of the film is at least as dark as that of the play, and that’s pretty dark.

    An interesting sound track, ranging from hip-hop to opera.

    Certainly not a substitute for the original, but very well worth seeing, in my opinion.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Education, Film | 3 Comments »