Once Burned, Twice Wary

When I was in college, taking upper division at Cal State University Northridge (a place of no particular fame or note, other than being one of those public unis which used to provide a fair education at relatively low cost) I had a lot of time between some of my classes, and spent many hours in the stacks of the Oviatt Library. On discovering the microfiche newspaper archives, squirreled away in the basement, I undertook a project to read, or at least skim one of them – every daily issue from 1935 to 1945, on reels that covered two weeks at a time. I had already skimmed many of the bound periodicals of the weekly news magazines available – Time, Life, Newsweek and the like – because I had an interest in the period, they were available and what better way to agreeably pass the time between classes? (Both carried the comic strip Terry and the Pirates, which I found fascinating.) I wound up with the Chicago Tribune, after a trial of the Los Angeles Times, because the pages of the Times were scanned from side to side on the reels of microfiche, which made me slightly motion-sick to skim at speed, whereas the Tribune pages were scanned from top to bottom.

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Archive Post: Pax Romana

(A snippit at Sarah Hoyt’s place reminded me of this post, from 2006 at my original milblog.

The stone ruins of Imperial Rome underlie Western Europe and the Mediterranean like the bones of a body, partially buried, yet here and there still visible and grandly manifest above ground, all but complete. From Leptis Magna in North Africa, to Hadrian’s Wall in the contentious border between Scotland and England proper, from Split in the Former Yugoslavia, to the 81 perfectly preserved arches of the ancient bridge over the Guadiana River, in Merida – that part of the empire called Hispania –and in thousands of lesser or greater remnants, the presence of Rome is everywhere and inescapable. The same sort of cast- concrete walls, faced with pebbles, or stone or tile, the same sort of curved roof-tiles, the same temples to Vesta, and Jupiter, to Claudius, Mars and Mithras; the same baths and fora, market-places, villas and apartment buildings, all tied together by a network of commerce and administration. Goods both luxury and otherwise, adventurous tourists, soldiers and civil administrators— the very blood of an empire, all moved along the veins and arteries of well-maintained roads and way-stations, of which the very beating heart was Rome itself.

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Censorship Week

This week has seen a sharp jump in censorship. The most obvious is the ban of President Trump from Twitter. I never joined Twitter but it did give the president a way around the “Legacy Media” which was uniformly hostile. Fox News was a partial exception but that is limited to a few hosts like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity.

Trump was not the only one to be censored. An alternative to Twitter was Parler, a similar site that promised an alternative. It was quickly canceled by Amazon Web Services, which is the money making arm of Bezos’ empire. The reason given was the usual “violation of standards,” which means “We disagree with your politics.”

Thousands of Trump supporters have been banned or deplatformed by the militant left, or in a few instances, the NeverTrump right. I have been suspended by Facebook for using the term “Russia Hoax.” Obviously, the political left is determined to oust anyone who questions the election result. This is more typical of Fascist and authoritarian regimes, like Turkey or China. Since we have an incoming regime aligned with China, this is not much of a surprise.

What was a bit unusual was the same censorship by the NeverTrump right. I quit and rejoined the blog Ricochet several times. The first was a squabble over evolution. I discussed it at the time.

Subsequently, I joined again, encouraged by a friend. I quit again, when suspended for using the term “TDS” and then rejoined again. My friend has subsequently quit himself. I had noticed a distinct NeverTrump tone, which has diminished as Trump’s presidency has been successful. What did not diminish is the NeverTrump sentiments of the administrators. Today, I received the email below.

“Dear MichaelKennedy,

Your Ricochet account has been suspended for 7 days, during which time you will be unable to post or comment. When you joined Ricochet, you agreed to abide by the Code of Conduct. In the last month you have racked up the following violations.

You have a habit of insulting members who you disagree with as “Vichy Republicans”.

https://ricochet.com/857597/senator-tom-cottons-statement/#comment-5109752
https://ricochet.com/857165/good-for-nick-sandmann/comment-page-2/#comment-5108696
Perhaps you didn’t realize that this was offensive. But in the following comment a moderator warned people in this thread that it is not acceptable.

https://ricochet.com/857165/good-for-nick-sandmann/comment-page-2/#comment-5108759
Rather than acknowledging that warning or letting it pass without comment, you argued your case.

https://ricochet.com/857165/good-for-nick-sandmann/comment-page-2/#comment-5109503
Then you continue your defiance in this comment.

https://ricochet.com/857165/good-for-nick-sandmann/comment-page-3/#comment-5110322
Then you whip it out again here.

https://ricochet.com/867992/rep-jim-jordan-to-seek-ouster-of-rep-liz-cheney-from-leadership-position/comment-page-2/#comment-5155010
Here’s another example of your incivility.

https://ricochet.com/864572/a-withdrawal/comment-page-4/#comment-5146865
D.A. Venters has been arguing in good faith and you issued the following insult. “Arsonist in a field of straw men again. Go away. Maybe Democrats would have you.”

A moderator redacted part of that and in this comment,

https://ricochet.com/867992/rep-jim-jordan-to-seek-ouster-of-rep-liz-cheney-from-leadership-position/comment-page-2/#comment-5155061
Regards,

The Ricochet Moderators”

Since I consider the administrators, at least those who have posted their opinions, Vichy Republicans, I am not surprised they are upset. I consider those who represent themselves as Republicans and then join the opposition/enemy when a battle is lost or in doubt to be similar to the members of the French government that joined the Nazis when France lost the war in 1940. Some of those Ricochet members that I “insulted” had announced they were voting for Biden, others have supported the sham impeachment.

Anyway, I quit for the third and last time.

I should add that I do not like the current version of WordPress. I could not get it to publish this post on my blog.



The Garden of Lies

Last week I mused on how so many sports and entertainment figures were walking away from being entertaining to at least half the audience. All the money and most of the viewership in China must be just so much more enticing to the suits who produce movies and the front offices for guys who play sports professionally. The bed is made, let them now sleep in it seemed to be the reaction of commenters to that post. Now we’ll watch old movies, foreign movies, or even take up a fascinating new hobby – model railroading, gardening, building replicas of medieval weapons, raising chickens, remodeling the house from stem to stern. That kind of thing.

Our establishment news media is going down the same road to irrelevancy; probably farther along down that road since they first got that head start. When was that? The first step from being impartial, to at least being seen as impartial; Was it in publicly yielding the victory in the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War to the NVA, against the actual facts on the ground? Or when Woodward and Bernstein took down a president with the behind-the-scenes assistance of a disgruntled and resentful FBI administrator, giving inspiration to a whole generation of college-trained journos who lusted after being in the news spotlight themselves even more than actually relaying ‘just the facts.’ (And perhaps inspiring other resentful bureaucrats in more recent times on how best to slip the knife in, without ever leaving fingerprints; just leak to the nearest sympathetic journo-List.)

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The Nature of Things

Thanks to the site administrators, this long-time Chicago Boyz reader has joined the roster of authors. Perhaps a brief introduction is in order before I begin posting in earnest.

My earliest exposure to Chicago Boyz dates back to 2003 (with a tip of the hat to Jay Manifold), when Jim Bennett and Michael Lotus were actively exploring the ideas that would lead to the publication of their most excellent and still underrated book America 3.0. The very concept of the Anglosphere was deeply enlightening to me, and inspired a great deal of further reading on my part. Their focus on both the historical realities and the lofty ideals of the Anglo-American tradition has continued to inspire my own thinking to this day. Other perspectives I hope to bring to Chicago Boyz include ancient philosophy (thus the pseudonym Lucretius), Austrian-school economics, civilizational history, Internet technology (my current profession), personal finance and preparedness, contemporary culture, and the arts and sciences.

If you must pin me down politically I suppose I would say I’m a moderate libertarian, a classical liberal, or even a Jeffersonian; however, it seems to me that America and the world have a whole raft of systemic problems for which political activity is not the answer but instead one of the many causes. My goal here is to steer clear of both the ideological and the quotidian to elucidate what my Roman namesake in his great philosophical poem called The Nature of Things. At least we can aim high, can’t we?

The Diplomad is Back!

The Diplomad 2.0, the blog of a retired Foreign Service officer, disappeared without a trace…it was gone for good or so I thought.  Turns out that the author had some domain-name problems, and the blog is now back here.

thediplomad.blogspot.com

 

The Dark Night of Fascism…

…is said to always be descending on America but landing in Europe … but in the instance of this Wuhan Coronavirus pandemic, a peculiar variant of it looks to be landing in Michigan, New Jersey and Virginia, seeing as those states have been blessed with governors breaking all land speed records in getting in touch with their inner authoritarian. One might be forgiven for suspecting that their motivation is not so much for keeping those vulnerable to the newly-improved Chinese respiratory crud in quarantine, but one might also be forgiven for a healthy sense of suspicion; that governors like … Gretchen “Karen the Governator” Whitmer are actually making a frantic display of authority, in a pathetic attempt to demonstrate that they can, actually, make wise use of such authority. Karen the Governator is additionally challenged by the prospect of being theoretically in the running to be nommed to the VP slot in Joe Biden’s hapless campaign for the office of president of these United and temporarily locked-down States. Sigh – the thing about authority, class, good taste, or being a lady – is that if you must make an overt demonstration of those qualities to the masses – then you don’t possess them at all. While it’s absolutely fine that a real-life Natasha Fatale has lost the Russian accent and taken on the onerous duties of being the elected governor of Michigan, going all overboard like the bossiest boss of the most nightmare HOA imaginable (I’m all about building a second career!) … is not a good look. Demanding that retail outlets which are already open and have customers withing – not sell garden seeds, flooring, and baby car seats on the grounds that such are non-essential is bloody insane. And illogical.

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Books That I Cannot Wait Not to Read

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.”

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The Seemingly Unending Schiff Show

I was going through my routine at Planet Fitness this morning, as is our habit – three times weekly, usually around 8 of the clock; half-past at latest, for an hour on the elliptical and the stair-step with a cool-down on the recumbent. There is a bank of television screens across the middle of the gym, offering all the alphabet networks, plus CNN, Univision, the Planet Fitness channel, and something that has Friends and Seinfeld on rotation during the time that I am not watching any of them. (I have perfected the art of reading my Kindle while stepping and pedaling; after all, being able to read makes the whole exercise thing bearable.)

All the news feeds – four or five of the screens had the same damn unending Schiff show; which is to say that interminable search for solid grounds upon which to impeach a sitting and duly elected president of the USA.

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Training Wheels

This last weekend was the start of the fall book market season; I spent three days in Giddings, Texas, as one of the local authors invited to participate in the yearly Word Wrangler Book Festival – which is sponsored by the local library, and supported by practically every civic institution in Giddings, including the local elementary and high schools. Last Thursday, the first day of Word Wrangler, certain of us authors volunteered to go and visit schools for readings, or to just talk about writing. This year, I visited three middle-school classes, to talk to sixth graders about writing, the stories that they liked, and what they could write about. I like doing this with fifth and sixth grade students, by the way – they are old enough to read pretty well, but not so old as to be jaded by the whole ‘visiting writer/storyteller’ thing.

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Of Roaches, Bedbugs and Old Media

So it is generally considered not nice to take satisfaction in someone elses’ misery, but when it comes to certain Proggie Established Media outlets, I will cheerfully make an exception. As if it isn’t enough that Washington Post news offices appear to be afflicted with a plague of cockroaches, now it appears that the NY Times – self-revealed last week as a purveyor of vicious propaganda on a level unequaled since the glory days of Der Stürmer – has a bed-bug problem. Pity the poor working-class exterminators who must venture into the offices; as a commenter noted here at Powerline – how on earth will they tell the difference between the vermin and the regular staff, as well as the Dem Party politicians that the Establishment Media fawns upon with such tiresome regularity?

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Summer Rerun: Metaphors, Interfaces, Memes, and Thinking

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.

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Worthwhile Reading

Haven’t posted one of these for while, so here are a few links I found interesting…

Tom Wolfe on the space race as a combat of individual champions in the ancient style.

Zoning rules as an enemy of shade.

Sarah Hoyt on the human tendency to assume that the conditions of the past still apply.  (Even the purely imagined and stereotypical conditions of the past, in some cases, I’d add)

Interesting ‘blog’ by Holly (Maths Geek).  (Actually a Twitter feed…people who are on Twitter would IMO do well to mirror all content onto a traditional blog unless they are willing to have their work at the mercy of Jack Dorsey and his minions)

Despite all the concern and hype about Russian hacking, China’s spying and influence within our borders are rising.  See also this case of a former GE engineer and a businessman charged with stealing turbine technology, with the “financial and other support” of the Chinese government.  Additionally, see my post So, really want to talk about foreign intervention?

When the Saxon Began to Hate

It was not part of their blood,
It came to them very late,
With long arrears to make good,
When the Saxon began to hate.

I have often jokingly wished that some kind of secret sign existed, like a Masonic emblem or peculiar handshake by which those of us conservatives who do not go about openly advertising our political affiliations to all and sundry might discretely identify a kindred spirit. Those of us in the real world have friends, neighbors, and co-workers who range across the political spectrum; Traditional good manners and consideration for those who didn’t share your beliefs once dictated a degree of ambiguity regarding political leanings, sexual orientation, and religious beliefs. This sense of discretion owed more to conventional good manners rather than cowardice, although a disinclination about being bashed about the head by a member of the Klantifa, harassed out of a restaurant, or a Twitter campaign to get one fired from employment are lately a very real possibility as a result of overtly advertising ones’ conservative sympathies.

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But for Wales?

It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world … but for Wales, Richard?- From A Man for All Seasons

I have been following the Oberlin/Gibson Bakery trial with the same kind of reluctant and horrified fascination with which one might regard a multi-vehicle pileup on the highway; the mass-casualty kind that involves numerous vehicles in every kind of disassembled condition and in every possible position, scattered or crunched together on the roadway or catapulted off on the verge, which attracts the professional attention of multiple fire department engines, ambulances, and every police and highway patrol cruiser for miles around. In the case of the Gibson Bakery suit against Oberlin, extensive coverage of the protests, trial, verdict and local background to the whole messy affair was provided by the Legal Insurrection blog.

One of the nastier aspects to the imbroglio is the revelation that there was an ongoing problem with students shoplifting, at Gibson’s and apparently at other local retailers. A writer for a student publication called it as a “culture of theft.”

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An Archive Post: Obamania & Spike Lee

(Another one of my archive posts – this one from … urp… 2008, on my original military blog.

An age ago when I had to keep closer track of what currently bubbled up to the top of popular culture and remained there as a sort of curdled froth, suitable for generating one-liners for whatever radio show I was doing for Armed Forces Radio, I read a long interview with Spike Lee. This would have been about the time that he floated into everyone’s cultural consciousness as a specifically black filmmaker, with She’s Gotta Have It and Do The Right Thing; a new fresh voice with a quirky and nuanced take on being black in America. It was a revealing interview which left me shaking my head, because it seemed to me that Mr. Lee was animated by a deeply held conviction that the American establishment and white people everywhere were coldly, malevolently and persistently dedicated with every fiber of their being and every hour of every day, to the sole objective of “keeping the black man down.” It was the top item on the agenda at every business meeting, every political gathering, and the topic of fevered discussion at every dinner table and whispered in every cloakroom, yea verily, wherever were white Americans gathered – there was the grand conspiracy to ruin the black American community. Or at least make them have a crappy day.

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Worthwhile Reading

Why do journalists love twitter and hate blogging?

The legacy of China’s Confucian bureaucracy.  Related:  my previous post on the costs of formalism and credentialism.

Stroking egos does nothing for students — raising expectation does.

Magic and Politics.

Related to the above:  Witches: the new woke heroines.

Legos, marketing, and gender.  “In 1981,” says a woman who as a child was pictured in a Legos ad back then, “LEGOs were ‘Universal Building Sets’ and that’s exactly what they were…for boys and girls. Toys are supposed to foster creativity. But nowadays, it seems that a lot more toys already have messages built into them before a child even opens the pink or blue package.”

What will be the economic impact of China’s increasing emphasis on economic control and preferential treatment for state-run enterprises?

What is the fastest the US economy can grow?

Midnight at the Gemba. Kevin Meyer visits the night shift at the medical-device molding plant he was running.

Inherited Trauma

Whilst I was perusing this story about the possibilities of trauma being a heritable thing, on my home office computer, my daughter came in to see what I was up to, and to lavish some small affection on our own bit of inherited trauma – that is, Mom’s cat, Isabelle. Isabelle was the last of those purebred apple-head Siamese cats which had been Mom and Dad’s. When their house had to be sold upon Mom becoming an invalid, my sister took the dogs to live with her (along with Mom) and Blondie and I inherited her two cats, one of whom has since passed away from advanced age. But Isabelle … sigh. Mom can’t remember how old she is exactly, since she was one of a long series of pure-bred apple-headed Siamese cats – and this iteration turned out to be as nutty as squirrel poop. Also mind-blowingly timid, unaffectionate, hostile even, unhygienically given to pee and crap where she slept (or where I slept, which was even more disgusting), and negative to the existing cats. We speculated that either Isabelle had been dropped on her head too damned many times as a kitten or was just as inbred as heck.

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Freedom, the Village, and Social Media

This rerun (retitled from the original) inspired by Glenn Reynolds’ decision to deactivate his Twitter account.

I’ve reviewed two books by German writer Hans Fallada: Little Man, What Now?, and Wolf Among Wolves (the links go to the reviews), both of which were excellent. I’ve also read his novel Every Man Dies Alone, which is centered on a couple who become anti-Nazi activists after their son Ottochen is killed in the war…it was inspired by, and is loosely based on, the true story of  a real-life couple who distributed anti-Nazi postcards and were executed for it.

I thought this book was also excellent…the present post, though, is not a book review, but rather a development of some thoughts inspired by a particular passage in the story.

Trudel, who was Ottochen’s fiancee, is a sweet and intelligent girl who is strongly anti-Nazi..and unlike Ottochen’s parents, she became an activist prior to being struck by personal tragedy: she is a member of a resistance cell at the factory where she works.  But she finds that she cannot stand the unending psychological strain of underground work–made even worse by the rigid and doctrinaire man (apparently a Communist) who is leader of the cell–and she drops out. Another member of the cell, who has long been in love with her, also finds that he is not built for such work, and drops out also.

After they marry and Trudel becomes pregnant, they decide to leave the politically hysterical environment of Berlin for a small town where–they believe–life will be freer and calmer.

Like many city dwellers, they’d had the mistaken belief that spying was only really bad in Berlin and that decency still prevailed in small towns. And like many city dwellers, they had made the painful discovery that recrimination, eavesdropping, and informing were ten times worse in small towns than in the big city. In a small town, everyone was fully exposed, you couldn’t ever disappear in the crowd. Personal circumstances were quickly ascertained, conversations with neighbors were practically unavoidable, and the way  such conversations could be twisted was something they had already experienced in their own lives, to their chagrin.

Reading the above passage, I was struck by the thought that if we are now living in an “electronic village”…even a “global village,” as Marshall McLuhan put it several decades ago…then perhaps that also means we are facing some of the unpleasant characteristics that–as Fallada notes–can be a part of village life. And these characteristics aren’t something that appears only in eras of insane totalitarianism such as existed in Germany during the Nazi era. Peter Drucker, in Managing in the Next Society, wrote about the tension between liberty and community:

Rural society has been romanticized for millenia, especially in the West, where rural communities have usually been portrayed as idylic. However, the community in rural society is actually both compulsory and coercive…And that explains why, for millenia, the dream of rural people was to escape into the city. Stadluft macht frei (city air frees) says an old German proverb dating back to the eleventh or twelfth century.

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Watching the Major Media Meltdown

I’ll confess to always having had a bit of cynicism about the professional national media orgs; this dating from my several turns in military public affairs and being one of those in-house media entertainment/news providers for the military broadcasting system. From the latter experience, I learned just how the sausage-news is created, expeditiously and on-schedule for the daily-dish-up. The former served up endless stories of media personalities acting badly from peers who had been there when they happened; checkbook offers for tips, tantrums on the flight-line as the media flight was about to depart, disgustingly snobbish behavior towards military media-relations staff … yep, darned few modern-day embedded reporters earned anything like the affection and respect earned by Ernie Pyle during WWII. Those who flew in to cover Gulf War I did not manage to conceal a tone of gratification and happy surprise in their coverage upon observing that the troops in that war were neat, polite, professional; the very farthest from the bunch of murderous, drug-addled psychotics which the aftermath of the Vietnam War had obviously led them to expect. And yes, we all noticed this at the time.
(Pro tip when it comes to producing local news? The calendar is your friend. A good half of your stories are ruled by the predictable. A significant or insignificant holiday – a story or two or three predicated on that holiday. The bigger the holiday, the more stories which can be milked out of it. Significant local event – a scheduled road closure, or a grand opening? Oh, yeah – another couple of stories to fill the required minutes in the regular broadcast. Even something semi-scheduled, like a rain/hurricane season? At least a story or two about preparations… And so it goes.)
Back to my main point – mainstream national news media: I presume that someone still watches CNN.

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The Bottom Line

So, several posts by the Zman blog crystalized in my own mind a partial understanding of the situation as regards the new cold civil war. The whole Trumpland/Clinton Archipelago split, and practically every bit of conservative/left nastiness over the last two years represent a slow-moving rebellion. Zman phrases it as; The ruling class and their media organs will never admit it, but one main reason for Trump is that white people grew tired of fighting wars for a ruling class that despises them.” I wouldn’t limit it to strictly white people, though – or the issue to war-fighting. I’d just say that it’s a rebellion of the normal citizens, the flyover country residents, the working and middle-class, what used to be called the salt of the earth, those who are Ruled against the Ruling Class – a Ruling Class which despises the Ruled with a passion which sends most of the Ruling Class into incoherent, spittle-flecked rage.

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Summer Rerun: The Five-Pound Butterfly Revisited

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.)

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The Age of Magical Thinking

A couple of different blogs that I follow have linked to one or more of these essays in recent days. Not being mystically-inclined, I don’t know about the magic-working aspects, but I think the sociological observations are spot on. Herewith for your consideration – The Kek Wars, from the Ecosophia blog.

Part One: Aristocracy and Its Discontents

Part Two: In the Shadow of the Cathedral

Part Three: Triumph of the Frog God

Part Four: What Moves in Darkness

Your thoughts?

In Memoriam: TV Knights & Radio Daze

We learned this week of the death of Adrian Cronauer, famous as the wild and wacky military radio DJ during a tour of duty in Vietnam, made even wilder and wackier when he was played by Robin Williams in the movie Good Morning, Vietnam. Of course, the movie bore only the slightest resemblance to real-life military radio operations. Some day, I may bore the very dickens out of you all by fisking it down to the subatomic level, but Adrian Cronauer himself is supposed to have had the definitive answer, when asked how accurate the movie was. “There was a Vietnam War, and there is an Armed Forces Radio and Television Service.”

As a matter of fact, those of us who served in the various military broadcast detachments were rather disappointed on two accounts with the movie when it first came out; the multitude of operational details which were just wrong, wrong, wrongedy-wrong, and secondly – because we all had stories of incidents and people which were just much more bizarre, comic and ironic. Which would have made an even funnier movie.

Some time ago, for the original Sgt. Stryker’s Daily Brief website, I wrote about some of them in the post retrieved from my archives. (It’s also one of the essays in this collection.)

The guys at Far East Network-Misawa in the days of my first duty station in the Air Force and my first overseas tour were a joke-loving lot, much given to razzing each other, with elaborate practical jokes and humor of the blacker sort. Practically none of it would survive scrutiny these days by a Social Actions officer, or anyone from the politically-correct set, either in the military or out. The nature of the job means the successful are verbally aggressive, intellectually quick, and even when off-mike, very, very entertaining. Some broadcasters I encountered later on were either sociopaths, terminally immature, pathological liars, or otherwise severely maladapted to the real world. They could generally cope, given a nice padded studio, a clearly defined set of duties, and a microphone with which to engage with the real world at a remove. Regular, face to face interaction with others of their species was a bit more problematic. But all that would come later. The people during my first tour or two were something else entirely.

The middle management NCOs were all Vietnam-era, and in some cases, Vietnam veterans. The draft had brought them into the military, and military broadcasting, they liked it, and had stayed. They tended to be rather more results-oriented than the regulation-driven broadcast management I encountered later on, a lot less uptight, and consequently much more fun.”What’s that VU light for?” was a favorite gag, asked from the studio door as the on-air broadcaster sat poised to read news headlines. With a few seconds to go on your music, or carted spot, they would snap off the overhead studio light, leaving you to read the copy, live, by the light of the two little lighted meters what measured audio levels.

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