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  • Archive for the 'Book Notes' Category

    The First Trip to the Moon, as Envisaged by Robert Heinlein

    Posted by David Foster on 19th July 2019 (All posts by )

    … in his 1950 story, The Man Who Sold the Moon.  Given the upcoming anniversary of the actual first moon landing, I thought it would be fun to go back and take a look at this fictional version of the first trip.

    In Heinlein’s story, the first manned lunar landing is not government-driven. Rather, it is the achievement of entrepreneur/industrialist Delos D Harriman, known to his friends and associates as ‘D.D.”  Having long dreamed of going to the moon, he finally decides that the time is right.

    Harriman-known as “our bad boy” to his fellow Directors of the power cartel–finds his colleagues reluctant to invest in a venture whose costs are so high and whose returns are uncertain.  Even his long-time partner, George Strong, fails to see either financial return or emotional appeal in the effort:

    George, isn’t there anything in your soul but discounts and dividends? Didn’t you ever sit with a girl on a soft summer night and stare up at the Moon and wonder what was there?

    Yeah, I did once.  I caught a cold.

    Nevertheless, Strong supports the project out of loyalty, and some tycoons support it because supersalesman Harriman is able to convince them that there is money for them in the project–or loss, if they decline to participate.  Much of the story is devoted to Harriman’s strategies for fund-raising, some of which skirt–or go over–the lines of legality and ethics. He implies to the Moka-Coka company, for example, that another soft drink maker plans to turn the Moon into a massive billboard (using a rocket to scatter black dust on the surface in patterns), and suggests that the public-spirited Moka company might like to invest in the project to preclude such use of the moon by their rival.

    As an old real-estate operator, Harriman is very focused on the question:  who owns the moon?…he argues that the question is indeed meaningful, based on real-estate doctrine that a property owner owns a wedge going down to the center of the earth and extending up to infinity. He doesn’t want lunar ownership vested in any country, even the US, because he thinks it would result in world war (given the moon’s value as a rocket-bomb base), and he does want it vested in his operation, for reasons of profitability as well as protection from bad uses.  His legal maneuvering, involving the UN as well as all countries over which the path of the moon passes–and a mix of non-profit, for-profit, and anonymous corporations–is intricately described.

    For the technology of the moon trip, Harriman had hoped to use a nuclear fuel which has been applied to power generation, but it proves too unstable for use in a rocket–so well-known chemical rocket technology must be employed instead (rockets are commonly used for long-distance transportation in the era where this story is set).  On the advice of Harriman’s chief engineer, Andrew Ferguson, the most technically-qualified man in rocketry, Bob Coster, is hired to run the project…but he evidently lacks sufficient management experience and is soon overwhelmed.  Harriman tries to help him out:

    “Top administration ain’t engineering, and maybe I can show you a few tricks there, if you’ll let me….Top bossing is like sex; until you’ve had it, you don’t know about it.”  Harriman had the mental reservation that if the boy would not take advice, he would suddenly be out of a job, whether Ferguson liked it or not.

    Although the story does deal with the technical aspects of the moon trip, that is not its primary focus…it is really a “business romance”, as Colby Cosh called it. “The Man Who Sold The Moon” emphasizes the financial difficulties, deals, the marketing, and the interpersonal stresses involved in the project–even Harriman’s wife is strongly opposed to his pursuit of his dream.   There are endless angles for the raising of money developed by Harriman and his friends, even soliciting contributions from children.

    The “man who sold the moon” tag becomes literal when, inspired by stories of the Florida land boom–“sometimes a parcel would change hands a dozen time before anyone got around to finding out that the stuff was ten-foot deep in water”–Harriman suggests selling lots on the moon itself:

    “We can offer bargains better than that–an acre, a guaranteed dry acre, for maybe ten dollars–or a thousand acres at a dollar an acre.  Who’s going to turn down a bargain like that?  Particularly after the rumor gets around that the Moon is believed to be loaded with uranium?”

    “Is it?”

    “How should I know?  When the boom sags a little we will announce the selected location of Luna City–and it will just happen to work out that the land around the site is still available for sale.  Don’t worry, Saul, if it’s real estate, George and I can sell it.  Why, down in the Ozarks, wheter the land stands on edge, we used to sell both sides of the same acre.”

    Comparisons between Harriman and Elon Musk come readily to mind–see the Colby Cosh article–though I don’t think Musk has been credibly accused of anything as far over the line as several of Harriman’s maneuvers.  It has also been suggested that Harriman’s name, and some aspects of his character, are owed to the railroad builder Edward Henry Harriman.

    I don’t think the date of the first lunar landing is mentioned in the story itself, but it has been placed–based on Heinlein’s future history timeline and on other stories–in 1978.  So real life beat out science fiction, at least from a date standpoint, by nine years.

    Could it have really happened that way–the first moon trip not via a gigantic government/corporate program piggybacking off of military missile technology, but rather by a private/corporate venture?  Given the vast amounts of money spent on the Apollo program and its predecessors–certainly much more than the fictional Harriman and his tycoon friends could have raised–it may seem impossible.  But would it really have been?

    Posted in Book Notes, Business, Capitalism, Civil Society, Space, Tech, USA | 29 Comments »

    National Conservatism

    Posted by Grurray on 17th July 2019 (All posts by )

    Here is Peter Thiel’s keynote address at the National Conservatism Conference, if you haven’t seen it yet. His accusations about Google’s disloyalty are front and center. I’m not sure what to think about that particular part. There’s no doubt that Google has a socially liberal, internationalist bent that favors cooperation with China at the expense of domestic interests. On the other hand, if we’re singling out companies and industries that have pursued profits that undermined American values, there are plenty to go around.

    Most of his other points are spot on. As a nation we chose bits over atoms, and it did not turn out well for a large segment of America. He has some scathing comments about the American dream and higher education that are hard to argue with, while approaching a nihilism that we don’t normally associate with conservatism.

    The conference was organized by Yoram Hazony, political philosopher and author of the excellent book The Virtue of Nationalism, that I highly recommend.

    Posted in Book Notes, Conservatism, Political Philosophy, Politics, Society | 9 Comments »

    In the Matter of Epstein

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

    You know, it has gotten to the point where one honestly can’t be cynical enough. I thought I was pretty hard-bitten and un-shockable after two decades in the military, and a long snorkel through the vagaries of history (in a purely amateur capacity, meaning for a deep love of the topic rather than the commonly accepted imputation of being hap-hazard and imprecise) but the efforts of the Establishment Media Complex to tie Jeffrey “Humbert Humbert” Epstein to the Donald (AKA the God-Emperor) are … risible. It’s as of they are all channeling Veruca Salt, stamping their little feet, turning tantrum-red in the face, insisting that Orange-Man-Bad just has to be implicated, just because he once said something neutral-to-complimentary about a man who apparently occupied the same (elevated) social circles. Well, never mind that The Donald subsequently got Epstein thrown out of a golf club and banned from Mar-a-Largo for his tendency to perv on underage girls therein, and additionally was generous in cooperating with lawyers acting on behalf of the aforesaid perved-upon teenagers … Orange Man Bad, just because.
    The tilt of this kind of coverage is so transparent; among those of us who have been paying attention to the Establishment Media Complex it seems like just another one of those torpedoes aimed at Trump circling around and holing those who have launched it well below the credibility waterline. And l’affaire Epstein is also reminiscent of the Harvey Weinstein imbroglio, wherein a lot of comfortably positioned Hollywood personalities were reminded forcibly that most ordinary Americans view a powerful boss demanding sexual services from underlings with considerable horror. In the case of Hollywood, though, I’d be willing to bet most of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual conquests engaged willingly with the man, and moreover, got what they wanted (juicy roles, fame and fortune) from the deal. But still – the spectacle of those personalities subsequently having the gall to hector the rest of us on an assortment of moral issues … splinter, logs, removal of same from eyes, anyone? Likely it’s been the same with Epstein, only in the political frame, rather than the strictly entertainment one. It’s already established that former president Bill Clinton was a more-than-frequent flier on Mr. Epstein’s personal private jet. The revelation that Mr. Epstein had many … many… many friends in political high places? Well, THAT should be interesting… Discuss as you will, and have insight into this.

    PS – the reference to Humbert Humbert reminds me irresistibly of the verses in this small tome:

    “Humbert gloats: His nymphet
    Is “ineffable” (and yet
    Effable as she can get):
    Twelve year-old Lolita, kept
    By this horny nympholept
    Clear across the country schlepped… (middle verses omitted in the interests of space)
    …By succumbing in his cell
    Waiting trial. It’s just as well:
    He has earned his private hell
    Not for him apotheosis
    In whose frog-eyed diagnosis
    Life is just a pederoisis

    Posted in Book Notes, Conservatism, Crime and Punishment, Diversions, Humor, Leftism, Media | 87 Comments »

    Bernie Sanders Won the Debate

    Posted by Kevin Villani on 4th July 2019 (All posts by )

    (WSJ: Bernie Sanders Won the Debate)
     
    —-

    The 20 candidates in the Democratic debates on June 26 & 27 accepted Sanders’s fundamental vision of Democratic Socialism.

    Bernie Sanders’s June 12 speech at George Washington University proposing “a 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights (EBR)” to “a decent job that pays a living wage; quality health care; complete (higher) education; affordable housing; a clean environment; and a secure retirement” all “regardless of his or her income” started a competition among the current democratic candidates for the 2020 Democratic nomination with promises of free stuff. This new Democratic socialism makes two promises:

    “It is free to the masses.”

    “If you like your democratic system of government, you can keep it.”

    This isn’t new and isn’t true.

    The ideological Cold War between the socialist totalitarian countries and the capitalist social democracies ended with the economic and political bankruptcy of virtually all of the former. The latter expanded their welfare states by taxing the economic fruits of capitalism, contracting when going too far, with symptoms including declining investment and innovation and rising public deficits and debt burdens. The proposed EBR to expand the welfare state to socialist extremes while maintaining democracy will erode both living standards and liberty.

    The Unintended Consequences of the Economic Bill of Rights

    The market system is based upon individuals responding to incentives, mostly embodied in market prices. Contemporary economists have done Nobel-worthy research demonstrating that individuals don’t always respond rationally. But the EBR promising free or cheap stuff well below cost with wages and income determined well above productivity is incompatible with a market economy and individual liberty. It would severely distort work and consumption incentives: already declining labor force participation would collapse and productivity stagnation would worsen. Costs of health care, education and housing would rise. The Green New Deal environmental proposal would cost up to $100 trillion while providing negligible environmental benefit. Private household saving would shrink further with the right to a secure retirement.

    States that raise income taxes on high net worth businesses and/or firms face an exodus of both. Individuals and firms similarly shift their tax residence outside the U.S. reducing U.S. domestic innovation. Trade deficits widen. The cost of the EBR exceeds the revenue from these types of taxes by orders of magnitude. The progressive states are already voting themselves into bankruptcy, anticipating a federal bailout.

    Modern Monetary Theory: Old Fashioned Money Printing

    To avoid the political consequences of massive middle class taxation, the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) promoted by a Sanders campaign economic advisor proposes debt financing. Wall Street prognosticators forecast the end of the debt supercycle in 2011 and the collapse of the international monetary system in 2014, going code red. But the debt supercycle has continued, so proponents of the MMT assume that interest rates will remain low indefinitely so the cost can be financed with no long term consequence, whether bought by domestic or foreign creditors or the Federal Reserve.

    They may be right about America’s creditors continuing to accept debt in the near term, but excessive debt always ends, suddenly and badly: the longer it goes on the bigger the bust. As the world’s reserve currency the debt can’t simply be inflated away. The consequences of a U.S. international default, no matter how delivered, would be catastrophic.

    Democratic Socialism and Individual Freedom

    The socialist EBR is the responsibility of the administrative state, which requires totalitarian political power to deliver. What, then, do democratic socialists mean by “democracy”?

    The ancient Greek city-states began experimenting with democracy (literally, “people power” in Greek) about 2500 years ago, limited to males selected on merit. After about a century of experimentation, Greek philosophers concluded that democracy was a form of mob tyranny that undermined individual freedom and the rule of law. United States exceptionalism is rooted in the U.S. Constitution, an experiment in a representative federal republic held in check by a limited list of enumerated powers to protect individual freedoms and prevent mob rule.

    The extension of voting rights to former slaves – and over a half century later to women– was overdue. The 14th Amendment was necessary to restrict the ability of Southern states from inhibiting their voting rights but has since been interpreted to give the federal government virtual total supremacy. The direct election of Senators in the 17th Amendment of 1912 further expanded populist democracy.

    Marx promised democracy and universal suffrage. Trotsky promised a peoples democracy, as did Mao. The current progressive platform on voting rights; opposing voter registration, supporting immigration of dependents with voting rights rather than working rights, eliminating the Electoral College, reducing the voting age to 16 years old, registering prisoners, and drive-by voter registration would complete the transition from a representative republic to a peoples democracy.

    Kevin Villani

    —-

    Kevin Villani, chief economist at Freddie Mac from 1982 to 1985, is a principal of University Financial Associates. He has held senior government positions, has been affiliated with nine universities, and served as CFO and director of several companies. He recently published Occupy Pennsylvania Avenue on the political origins of the sub-prime lending bubble and aftermath.

    Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Politics | 8 Comments »

    A New Insult-Meme!

    Posted by David Foster on 28th June 2019 (All posts by )

    In a discussion of ‘alternative energy’ at a social media site, someone raised the practical issue of the difficulties involved in high-volume energy storage.  Someone else came back at him with a comment to the effect that “climate-solution deniers are as bad a climate change deniers.”

    This is probably just the leading edge of a new insult-meme:  I expect to see a lot more of the climate-solution-denier accusations being made.  We are getting uncomfortably close to a pervasive climate of Lysenkoism.

    In Arthur Koestler’s novel Darkness at Noon, set in the Soviet Union, his character Rubashov (an old Bolshevik who is now on trial for his life) muses:

    “A short time ago, our leading agriculturist, B., was shot with thirty of his collaborators because he maintained the opinion that nitrate artificial manure was superior to potash. No. 1 is all for potash; therefore B. and the thirty had to be liquidated as saboteurs. In a NATIONALLY CENTRALIZED AGRICULTURE, the alternative of nitrate or potash is of enormous importance: it can decide the issue of the next war. If No. I was in the right, history will absolve him, and the execution of the thirty-one men will be a mere bagatelle. If he was wrong …”

    and

    “We know that virtue does not matter to history, and that crimes remain unpunished; but that every error had its consequences and venges itself unto the seventh generation. Therefore we concentrated all our efforts on preventing error and destroying the very seeds of it. Never in history has so much power over the future of humanity been concentrated in so few hands as in our case. Each wrong idea we follow is a crime committed against future generations. Therefore we have to punish wrong ideas as others punish crimes: with death. We were held for madmen because we followed every thought down to its final consequence and acted accordingly. We were compared to the inquisition because, like them, we constantly felt in ourselves the whole weight of responsibility for the super-individual life to come. We resembled the great Inquisitors in that we persecuted the seeds of evil not only in men’s deeds, but in their thoughts. We admitted no private sphere, not even inside a man’s skull. We lived under the compulsion of working things out to their final conclusions. Our minds were so tensely charged that the slightest collision caused a mortal short-circuit. Thus we were fated to mutual destruction.” (emphasis added)

    The assertions now being made that anyone who challenges catastrophic CO2-caused climate change is complicit in the deaths of thousands/hundreds of thousands/millions parallel the above rather closesly.

    Koestler’s Rubashov also observed that it had become “necessity to drill every sentence into the masses by vulgarization and endless repetition; what was presented as right must shine like gold, what was presented as wrong must be as black as pitch; political statements had to be coloured like ginger-bread figures at a fair.”  

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Energy & Power Generation, Leftism, Russia | 27 Comments »

    Book Review: Gossip from the Forest

    Posted by David Foster on 24th June 2019 (All posts by )

    Gossip from the Forest, by Thomas Keneally

    You are a politician and a government official, but without much in the way of real power.  You are not a member of the country’s elite class, and out of sympathy with many of the government’s policies.

    For the last four years, your country has been involved in a major war–a war that you initially supported.  But at least a year ago, you came to the conclusion that the war cannot be won, and that a peace treaty must be negotiated.  You have had no success, however, in convincing the parliament and the government of this view.

    Now, however, the leading generals have become convinced that a total and disastrous defeat is impending, and peace must be made immediately. Your country’s negotiating position at this point is not strong, to put it mildly.  And one of the small group selected to conduct the negotiations with the enemy is you.

    It gets worse.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, France, Germany, History, Miscellaneous, War and Peace | 1 Comment »

    Mice in a Maze

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 18th June 2019 (All posts by )

    Arnade, Chris. Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America. Penguin Publishing Group, 2019.

    Chris Arnade certainly seems to have been called, and may well have been chosen, to help mitigate one of the great divisions of our time. Dignity complements, among others, Charles Murray’s Coming Apart with interviews and photos from what Murray would call “Fishtown,” or rather its extreme margin, whose inhabitants are simultaneously transient and rooted, strategizing to survive in ways often incomprehensible to the more cognitively gifted and emotionally stable. Learning to extend compassion and respect rather than mere pity (in its more negative variant), glib political “solutions,” and outright contempt is a challenge far too few Americans are willing to undertake. Matthew 22:14 seems unnervingly relevant in this context, and while the church as it is depicted among the people Dignity portrays is an overwhelmingly positive influence, more “front row” believers might take a moment to consider just how much better than the vast majority of us Arnade, a secular liberal, has done at reaching out to desperate communities. My advice to them is to buy and read this book, pray over it, maybe lend it out to others for discussion, and—without reinventing the wheel—do the Tocquevillian thing and organize/volunteer, with an eye to Luke 15. Because if the parables in that chapter aren’t about “back row” people, they don’t mean a damned thing.

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    Posted in Big Government, Biography, Book Notes, Christianity, Civil Society, Current Events, Education, Human Behavior, Libertarianism, Personal Narrative, Political Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Society, Trump, USA | 31 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.
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    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Business, Miscellaneous, Texas | 4 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 »

    America, the Land of the Free Lunch and the Home of the Brave Easily Traumatized

    Posted by Kevin Villani on 3rd May 2019 (All posts by )

    As a Boston area baby boomer, I belted out the National Anthem in my youth with conviction at sporting events. Massachusetts educators emphasized its role as the birthplace of the American Revolution from distant unaccountable politicians (leaving out the crucial role of fake news written and published by the infamous brewer’s son Sam Adams) and the motivating principles, summed up by Virginian Patrick Henry’s immortal phrase: “give me liberty or give me death.”

    In the 1970s Boston’s U.S. Congressman Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill quipped “all politics is local.” Now the progressive daily prayer on Twitter begins “Our father, who art in Washington D.C. give us money – a guaranteed minimum income, reparations, welfare, entitlements, etc. and other free stuff – food, housing, medical care, a college education.”

    Bostonian President Kennedy’s appeal to voters’ patriotism in the 1960’s to “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country” is reversed today. Patriotism is as out of favor with many millenials (who proudly display their participatory soccer trophies) as are the Boston (now New England) Patriots for hogging the Super Bowl Trophy this century, stigmatizing other teams as “losers.”

    Competing Foreign Ideologies

    Traumatized by competing ideas, many millenials would trade U.S. competitive capitalism and individual freedom for a free lunch. “History doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes” according to Mark Twain. The core contemporary national political issue is whether America’s popular progressive ”social democracy” ideology rhymes with its founding principles and historical values or foreign ideologies that threaten the body politic?

    The Communism Threat

    The Bolshevik Revolution ended an anachronistic Imperial dynasty in a country with no prior democratic traditions. Communist intellectual Leon Trotsky promised a utopian Marxist socialism, international brotherhood and the end of nation-state competition for resources as the state would wither away. Communist atrocities under Stalin, murders and deaths measured in the tens and hundreds of millions, predated the WW II Western Alliance in a desperate attempt to industrialize a backward agrarian society.

    Stalin promoted opaque Russian Imperialism under the banner of brotherhood. Soviet skullduggery in post War elections in Europe and around the globe – and CIA involvement to counter it (or visa-versa) – was widespread. The post WW I & II “Red Scare” of communist infiltration of state institutions in the U.S. was somewhat over-blown, but the belief that communists could be elected in a democracy based on false promises then turn dictatorial and refuse to relinquish power as has occurred most recently in Venezuela, was well founded. Fearing such a cancer on the body politic, the Communist Control Act of 1954 outlawing the Communist Party in the United States suppressing free speech passed with the full support of progressive Democrats who wanted to distance themselves from ”Uncle Joe” Stalin (and later, many others, including Mao).

    Fascism, Communism’s Cousin and Bitter Political Rival

    Hitler came to power in democratic Germany promising economic prosperity, understandably as wartime consumer deprivation far exceeded that of France and Britain (where communist sympathies were widespread), and post war reparations inhibited a consumer recovery. Although Mussolini, the founder of European fascism, once headed the Communist Party in Italy, and Hitler founded the National Socialist Party, neither implemented socialism domestically. By national, they meant a return to Germany’s pre-War greatness: consumers initially benefitted from a massive boom in defense spending before once again suffering wartime deprivations.

    The nationalist agenda was less imperial than traditional. European history since 1453 is largely related to border wars as Germany is caught in the middle between the British and French empires to the west and Russian empire to the east: only the scale of Nazi eastward border expansion represented a radical departure. In Hitler’s view this rhymed with American westward expansion and genocide of the indigenous populations. He persecuted the Jews, even ethnic Germans, based on Nazi perception of Jewish financing of German enemies on the WW I battlefield and in the labor movement fomenting unrest on the home front and their perceived outsized influence in the Bolshevik communist movement (Trotsky was Jewish).

    Hitler inherited a failing German economy. He was aware that the economic potential of the western capitalist powers were orders of magnitude greater and growing faster, causing him to knowingly take enormous risks to address what he believed was an existential threat. Even as he acquired new territories he was playing catch up. Unlike Stalin, he was not driven by an anti-capitalist economic ideology, but intervention in the German economy increased as the Wehrmacht consumed an ever increasing share of GDP – over half at the peak – relying on private enterprise and the profit and price mechanism to the extent feasible (and arguably more than FDR) relative to the size of the war effort. Dictatorial power and crony capitalist corruption – favoritism of the political elite – was an inevitable result of a rising government share of the economy.

    Racist ideology contributed to his miscalculation of the military industrial ability of the Soviet Union, where his early luck inevitably ran out, after which a war of attrition would exploit Germany’s relative economic weakness. Economic desperation determined the magnitude of Nazi atrocities, less in scope and subsequent to those of the communists in the Soviet Union, but driven by racism.

    In 1977 the U.S. Supreme Court extended freedom of speech protection to the National Socialist Party of America, a racist fringe rather than socialist party.

    European Social Democracy

    In the wake of WW II deprivation and devastation in Europe, “social democracy” – a greater role of the state in providing household necessities – was viewed as a more benign alternative to communism. Britain, particularly Scotland, experimented primarily with socialized housing and medical care until the late 1970s when, as British Prime Minister Margret Thatcher put it, they were running out of “other peoples’ money.”It was also tried in the small relatively homogeneous Nordic countries, running out of money in Sweden in the 1990s and Finland more recently. These experiments were not democratic socialism or the fascist prone democratic capitalism, as all were financed by taxing capitalist-created income and resulted in retrenchment rather than socio-political collapse when they went to far.

    American Progressivism Rhymes with Fascism and Communism, not European Social Democracy

    But for democrat skullduggery, Socialist Bernie Sanders might well have been the 2016 Democratic candidate and also won the election. Most of his younger Democrat competitors for 2020 support the Green New Deal, the latest utopian vision. Their success hinges on rhyming this vision with small-state European social democracy, but the American progressive movement has always focused on the entire nation. When a failed ideology is adopted by a large too-big-to-fail nation-state like Germany or the Soviet Union in the past or the U.S. at present, unaccountable politicians cover-up and double down on failure until it is systemic and seismic like the 2008 financial crisis.

    Progressivism’s historical nationalism and racism and current methods of intervention in a capitalist market economy rhyme with fascism: its premise that economic progress is attributable to politics and its utopian goal of social justice without regard to national borders both rhyme with communism: the inherent dictatorial lack of political or fiscal accountability rhymes with both.

    American Nationalism

    Federal power ballooned during the wars of progressive presidents TR, Wilson, FDR and LBJ. That American patriotism is excessively nationalistic has been an issue since the Monroe Doctrine and subsequent Manifest Destiny. America’s support of free trade post WW II supported by American hegemony over trade routes worked well, as it did under British hegemony leading up to WW I. But the post WW II order is once again breaking down as a consequence of increasing nation-state rivalry over resources and trade routes. President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” is daily attacked not as patriotism but Nazi racist nationalism. The future of American Hegemony should be the central issue in the next presidential election.

    Racism and Sexism

    In a competitive free market economy those who would inappropriately discriminate by race or sex always lose out, always: racism requires political protection from competition. Socialism is inherently discriminatory; the state determines who gets what and who pays. The Democratic Party was the party of slavery, Jim Crow and voter discrimination; it remains the party of restrictive working laws and regulations (with a “disparate impact” on black youth employment) e.g., with well above market “living” minimum wages, credentialing and anti-immigrant worker prohibitions, and admission quotas. Winners beget losers: progressives once again discriminate against Asians.

    The progressive party founded the eugenics movement targeted to limit the black population from which Hitler borrowed ideology. Roe versus Wade represents a eugenic success story, as abortion for the white population at the time required no more than a bus ticket to the next state. Now about half of black pregnancies are terminated.

    The Road to Serfdom

    The promise of “free stuff” to those mostly not yet paying taxes and of cancelling their debt likely explains college students’ preference for socialism over capitalism, and the myth of socialist environmentalism the Green New Deal environmental goals.

    Income inequality and Social Justice in a Democracy

    America’s social welfare system while not as generous as the Nordic countries generally provides a standard of living sufficient by international comparison and luxurious compared to the deprivations suffered when fascism and communism incubated. Competitive market capitalism produces unequal incomes, the source of its ability to raise the living standards of all through increased productivity. Progressive policies that cross the constitutional threshold of equality of opportunity to demand equality of economic outcomes by broadening the base of the politically favored are a subset of crony capitalism that favors the political elite at the expense of society generally, a failed ideology. Socialism fails every time because incentives matter.

    The Green New Deal: a Fentanyl induced Utopian High

    Concern for the environment and the human impact on it is warranted, but what to do about it is a difficult question primarily for foreign diplomats. The Green New Deal adopted by only the U.S. would provide negligible environmental benefit. But as virtually all past environmental initiatives, it would be a bonanza for the crony capitalists and their political patrons. Whether or not the Green New Deal cost $100 trillion or only $10 trillion, it is a road to serfdom for millenials, with no exit provided by the archaic modern monetary theory.

    Democrats Cross the Rubicon

    “The founders of the Roman Republic, like the American founding fathers, placed checks and balances on the power of their leaders. The Romans, however, came up with a way to sidestep these checks and balances when strong leadership was needed, such as a time of crisis.” 

    Communism, fascism, the New Deal and social democracy were all implemented in response to an existential crisis. It is no accident that progressives exploited the “environmental crisis” to push their social justice agenda: these faux crises don’t justify national socialism, an existential threat to the body politic.

    The majority of American voters – positively correlated to age – still properly associate socialism with the totalitarian communist and Nazi regimes rather than European democratic socialism as socialist Sanders’ argues, undercut by his Moscow honeymoon. The two big progressive myths are that European social democracies never run out of money and that “other peoples’ money” i.e., the other party’s voters, will somehow finance the socialist agenda. Green New Deal proponents refused to vote for it to avoid voter accountability for the costs. National socialism and the virtual one party rule necessary to achieve it provides the best explanation for the rest of the 2020 “democratic” agenda.

    Progressive Social Democracy isn’t Nordic

    The population of California is four times that of the largest Nordic country Sweden. It, like all the progressive states is over taxed and over indebted. Obamacare impregnated promiscuous states with these twin fiscal burdens with a whispered promise of a subsequent opaque federal bailout when they matured, making states subservient to D.C. like Soviet Oblasts to Moscow.

    Suppression of Free Speech

    The free speech amendment is listed first as the foremost safeguard against infringement of individual freedom and equality under the law. The Communist Party remains illegal in U.S. due to its meretricious promises, now virtually indistinguishable from those of progressives. Conservative speech to expose the fallacies of progressive ideology and the threat to the Republic is suppressed by the democratic state apparatus. Free speech invites propaganda, including Russian translations, think tank and academic “research” but should be protected, even for communists and neo-Nazis.

    From Republicanism to Democratic Totalitarianism and One Party Rule

    The American experiment with a limited government republic has been undergoing constant change since the “peoples” candidate Andrew Jackson, founder of the Democratic Party and seventh President, while winning the popular vote in the post-universal male suffrage election of 1824 lost in the Electoral College, which he then proposed to abolish. Subsequent progressive constitutional amendments extended voting rights to former slaves and their decedents (15th), women (19th) and the direct election of Senators (17th).

    Even with control of the House, Senate and Presidency, this wasn’t enough to pass Obamacare, arguably the stealth stepping stone to single payer Medicare for all. Unprecedented political maneuvering and prosecutorial and administrative abuse by then FBI Director Robert Mueller was employed. Then a lone opinion of Chief Justice Roberts relied on another progressive amendment, the 16th enabling unlimited power to tax, to save it.

    Socialism in a large diverse nation like the U.S. requires permanent dictatorial powers of enforcement, as highlighted by the requirements of Obamacare and the controversy over the individual mandate. This explains the progressive platform on: voting rights; opposing voter registration, supporting immigration of dependents with voting rights rather than working rights, eliminating the Electoral College, reducing the voting age to 16 years old, registering prisoners, and drive-by voter registration: the Supreme Court; nominating liberal (i.e., anti-Constitutional) Supreme Court Justices, packing the Supreme Court (again), and: the apparent attempt by the Obama Administration to implement PRI style hereditary presidential selection. This rhymes with Mao’s “people’s democratic dictatorship” not the individual liberty of the American Lion.

    To quote America’s greatest economist Milton Friedman:  “A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.”

    Kevin Villani

     
     
    —-

    Kevin Villani, chief economist at Freddie Mac from 1982 to 1985, is a principal of University Financial Associates. He has held senior government positions, has been affiliated with nine universities, and served as CFO and director of several companies. He recently published Occupy Pennsylvania Avenue on the political origins of the sub-prime lending bubble and aftermath.

    Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Conservatism, Crony Capitalism, Culture, Economics & Finance, Elections, History, Leftism, Libertarianism, Obama, Political Philosophy, Politics, Public Finance, Taxes, Tea Party, Tradeoffs, Trump, USA | 6 Comments »

    Archive Post: Evelyn Waugh And the Sword of Honor

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 18th April 2019 (All posts by )

    (An archive post from 2015 … working on a new post, but I thought that this was one of my more thoughtful ones…)

    So, leafing – metaphorically speaking – through the video delights on offer through the Acorn video catalogue in search of something amusing to while away the evening after a day’s labor on various book projects, the most pressing of which is not my own, but a paid client – we came upon a two-part version from about ten years ago of Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honor trilogy. I suggested that we watch it, since I had a bout of Waugh fever about the time that I was in college upper division, in hot pursuit of that relatively useless degree in English. (But I enjoyed the pursuit very much on its own merits, not being one of those one-percenters with delusions of the diploma leading me author-matically into an lavishly paid gig anywhere in the academic or in the publishing establishment.)

    Anyway, I had read a good few of Waugh’s books early on; liked Scoop – as vicious an evisceration of Big Media as it was in the 1930s as was ever set to page – and the first book of the Sword of Honor Trilogy, as a similarly bitterly cynical romp through the first years of WWII. The training year, the ‘Phony War’ year … when nothing much (aside from Nazi Germany overrunning Poland, the Low Countries, Norway and Denmark, and France) was happening. And then it all turned deadly serious, with which Waugh just didn’t seem able to cope. The seriousness of it all, I mean. Literary and serious observers, looking through their lorgnettes at current events sometimes have this difficulty, I know. Poor P. G. Woodhouse also had the same trouble, regarding WWII, even as it caught him up in its ghastly coils. I surmise that dear old P. G. dealt with it by moving to America and never dealing with it at all, within the frame of his books; probably a wise literary decision, since he had the formula down pat, so to speak.

    We watched the whole two-part distillation of the Trilogy – enjoying the scenic views of Daniel Craig no end – but the miniseries kind of left us cold. I suspect that re-reading the Trilogy entire would also leave us rather cold. Apparently in the purview of the Great and Good English Literature Establishment, The Trilogy is held to be one of the Majorly Significant Novels dealing with WWII … to which I blow a large raspberry. (That all you got, English Literary Establishment? Really…) Yes, Evelyn Waugh was a magnificent prose stylist, and his satiric novels in the 1930s are bitchy and hilarious, Return to Brideshead is elegiac and heartbreaking … but the Sword of Honor Trilogy is a very odd fish. The first volume was true to the bitchy and satiric form; frankly, I found it very funny because … well, it was to do with the weirdness of the military. Of any age and country, really; a sort of inside black humor, best appreciated by those who have lived through and endured. (G. M. Fraser’s McAuslan cycle is a wonderful example of this, only not burdened by the weight of being A Majorly Significant Novel, so it can be appreciated for its own merits. What a lovely miniseries the McAuslan cycle would make – I can’t imagine why it has been overlooked in this respect… anyway, back to the subject…)

    The rest of the TV version – and take into consideration the fact that I am trying to recall the source novels that I read a lifetime ago – rather fell flat for both of us. We agreed that Waugh couldn’t really write women – although he did have the manipulative bitch subset of the species down cold. It was just rather depressing that just about all the various characters which the hero character tried to help in some way came to rather awful ends. Perhaps that was the inclination of the screenwriters; but really – the message is that it’s useless and futile to be a decent person and do the right thing? How nihilistic is that?

    I wonder also if trying to write a novel about current events isn’t rather a trap for the writer; in retrospect it certainly seemed so for Waugh; the Holocaust together with the Communist aggression in Eastern Europe were just too horrific for a satirist to manage within the scope of a serio-comic novel.

    Posted in Anglosphere, Book Notes, Britain, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Leftism | Comments Off on Archive Post: Evelyn Waugh And the Sword of Honor

    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 »

    A Truly Courageous Business Decision

    Posted by David Foster on 7th April 2019 (All posts by )

    Today marks the 55th anniversary of IBM’s announcement of the System/360 line…which made obsolete virtually all of its then-existing products.  The 360 line established a common architecture for machines of widely-differing price and performance characteristics, with the individual product implementations of this architecture differing considerably.  The goal was compatibility, so that customers could upgrade without extensive rewriting of programs.  Consolidating IBM’s diverse computer systems into this single system architecture was a bold decision; truly, a bet-the-company decision: in the end, it paid off, with devastating consequences for the ‘Seven Dwarfs’ who were IBM’s competitors at the time…but the implementation was frighteningly stressful.  A good article on the project recently appeared in IEEE Spectrum.

    Tom Watson Jr, who ran IBM during this time period, discusses the 360 project extensively in his superb memoir, Father, Son, and Co.  I reviewed it here–highly recommended.

    Posted in Book Notes, Business, Management, Tech | 21 Comments »

    California agonistes.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 19th March 2019 (All posts by )

    I moved to California in 1956 to attend college. Los Angeles was a paradise. The weather was great. The traffic was no problem. I learned that the LAPD did not take bribes and was not amused at attempts to offer them. After growing up in Chicago, I had learned to put a ten dollar bill behind my driver’s license in case I was stopped. In Los Angeles, I did so and was lectured about the consequences of offering a bribe by a stern LAPD officer.

    I lived in the fraternity house and one year slept on an outside second floor porch. I had four blankets on my bed but no problem, with flies or mosquitoes. I remember flying back to Los Angeles one New Year’s Eve from Christmas vacation in Chicago. The palm trees told me I was home. There was a brush fire in the hills but it was nice to be back. I would sometimes drive up to Sunset Boulevard just to see the city at night. The TV show, “77 Sunset Strip” showed just what it looked like. We would drive into Hollywood and sometimes eat at Villa Frescati. We had a lot of fun. Too much fun as I lost my scholarship.

    The first sign of trouble was described in Victor Davis Hanson’s book, “Mexifornia.” There was trouble before that as the Watts Riot in 1965 began the endless pandering to the angry mobs.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Civil Society, Politics | 12 Comments »

    Book Review: The Year of the French (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 17th March 2019 (All posts by )

    The Year of the French, by Thomas Flanagan

    (This being St Patrick’s day, I’m again taking advantage of the hook to re-post this review, in the hope of inspiring a few more people to read this incredibly fine historical novel)

    Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century,” going on to say “except for ‘The Leopard,’ I know of no historical novel that so richly and convincingly captures the ambience of a bygone world.”

    In August of 1798, the French revolutionary government landed 1000 troops in County Mayo to support indigenous Irish rebels, with the objective of overthrowing British rule in Ireland.  The Year of the French tells the (fictionalized but fact-based) story of these events from the viewpoint of several characters, representing different groups in the complex and strife-ridden Irish social structure of the time.

    Owen MacCarthy is a schoolmaster and poet who writes in the Gaelic tradition.  He is pressed by illiterate locals to write a threatening letter to a landlord who has evicted tenants while switching land from farming to cattle-raising.  With his dark vision of how an attempt at rebellion must end–“In Castlebar.  They will load you in carts with your wrists tied behind you and take you down to Castlebar and try you there and hang you there”–MacCarthy is reluctant to get involved, but he writes the letter.

    Sam Cooper, the recipient of the letter, is a small-scale landlord, and captain of the local militia.  Indigenously Irish, his family converted to Protestantism several generations ago to avoid the crippling social and economic disabilities imposed on Catholics. Cooper’s wife, Kate, herself still Catholic, is a beautiful and utterly ruthless woman…she advises Cooper to respond to the letter by rounding up “a few of the likeliest rogues,”  jailing and flogging them, without any concern for actual guilt or innocence. “My God, what a creature you are for a woman,”  Cooper responds. “It is a man you should have been born.”  “A strange creature that would make me in your bed,” Kate fires back, “It is a woman I am, and fine cause you have to know it…What matters now is who has the land and who will keep it.”

    Ferdy O’Donnell  is a young hillside farmer on Cooper’s land.  Far back in the past, the land was owned by the O’Donnell family…Ferdy had once shown Cooper  “a valueless curiosity, a parchment that recorded the fact in faded ink the colour of old, dried blood.”

    Arthur Vincent Broome is a Protestant clergyman who is not thrilled by the “wild and dismal region” to which he has been assigned, but who performs his duties as best he can. Broome is resolved to eschew religious bigotry, but…”I affirm most sincerely that distinctions which rest upon creed mean little to me, and yet I confess that my compassion for their misery is mingled with an abhorrence of their alien ways…they live and thrive in mud and squalour…their music, for all that antiquarians and fanatics can find to say in its flavor, is wild and savage…they combine a grave and gentle courtesy with a murderous violence that erupts without warning…”‘

    Malcolm Elliott is a Protestant landlord and solicitor, and a member of the Society of United Irishmen.  This was a revolutionary group with Enlightenment ideals, dedicated to bringing Catholics and Protestants together in the cause of overthrowing British rule and establishing an Irish Republic.  His wife, Judith, is an Englishwoman with romantic ideas about Ireland.

    John Moore, also a United Irishman, is a member of one of the few Catholic families that have managed to hold on to their land.  He is in love with Ellen Treacy, daughter of another prominent Catholic family: she returns his love, but believes that he is caught in a web of words that can only lead to disaster.  “One of these days you will say a loose word to some fellow and he will get on his horse and ride off to Westport to lay an information with Dennis Browne, and that will be the last seen of you”

    Dennis Browne is High Sheriff of Mayo…smooth, manipulative, and devoted to the interests of the very largest landowners in the county, such as his brother Lord Altamont and the mysterious Lord Glenthorne, the “Big Lord” who owns vast landholdings and an immense house which he has never visited.

    Randall MacDonnell is a Catholic landowner with a decrepit farm and house, devoted primarily to his horses.  His motivations for joining the rebellion are quite different from those of the idealistic United Irishmen…”For a hundred years of more, those Protestant bastards have been the cocks of the walk, strutting around on acres that belong by rights to the Irish…there are men still living who remember when a son could grab his father’s land by turning Protestant.”

    Jean Joseph Humbert is the commander of the French forces.  A former dealer in animal skins, he owes his position in life to the revolution.  He is a talented commander, but  the battle he is most concerned about is the battle for status and supremacy between himself and  Napoleon Bonaparte.

    Charles Cornwallis, the general who surrendered to the Americans at Yorktown, is now in charge of defeating the French and the rebels and pacifying the rebellious areas of Ireland.   Seen through the eyes of  a young aide who admires him greatly, Cornwallis is portrayed as a basically kindly man who can be hard when he thinks it necessary, but takes no pleasure in it.  “The color of war had long since bleached from his thoughts, and it remained for him only a duty to be scrupulously performed.”

    This book is largely about the way in which the past lives on in the present, both in the world of physical objects and the world of social relationships.  Two characters who make a brief appearance are Richard Manning, proprietor of a decrepit and debt-laden castle, and his companion Ellen Kirwan:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, France, History, Ireland | 2 Comments »

    Some thoughts about Churchill, who is under attack these days.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 9th March 2019 (All posts by )

    I am currently reading Andrew Roberts’ excellent biography of Churchill.

    It does a better job with his early life than the other biographies I have read. I am 2/3 through it and have not yet reached Pearl Harbor so the emphasis is clear. I have reflected on a couple of items, not necessarily about Churchill but about his times.

    Churchill was an observer in the Boer War but had some adventures, which included being captured and escaping from a POW camp.

    For example, had Cecil Rhodes and the British gold miners not invaded the Transvaal would the Boer War have occurred and, if it had not occurred, would Germany have built its High Seas Fleet?

    Now the Transvaal Republic might, like the Orange Free State, have simply remained as a small shut-in self-governing state without creating any disturbance. But the Transvaalers were the sons of the stalwarts who fifty years before had sought to escape from all British control. They looked upon South Africa as a Dutch not a British inheritance; they resented the limitations imposed on them by the British, and their experience had not taught them any respect for the British Empire. Their president, Paul Kruger, had himself gone on the great trek in his boyhood. It is not possible to doubt that President Kruger dreamed his own dreams of a United South Africa, but a South Africa under a Dutch flag, not under the Union Jack; though how far those dreams were shared by others is not equally clear. But whatever his ambitions outside the Transvaal, within the borders of the republic he intended to go his own way.

    But then gold was discovered in Transvaal.

    In 1885, however, the discovery was made of valuable goldfields within the territories of the republic; aliens, Uitlanders as they were called, for the most part British subjects, whatever their actual nationality might be, poured into the Transvaal to exploit the mines. The Boer government had no objection to the exploitation of the mines on its own terms, which did not include the concession of citizenship to the Uitlanders till after a very prolonged residence. All the burdens of citizenship were laid on the Uitlanders without its privileges. The Uitlanders began to feel that they had no security for justice, and to demand approximately the opportunities for acquiring citizenship in the Transvaal which were readily accorded to the Transvaaler who migrated into British territory.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Biography, Book Notes, Britain, Germany, History, Military Affairs | 18 Comments »

    Do You Have Lamarr in Your Car?

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

    It has been suggested that the short-range wireless protocol known as Bluetooth should instead have been called Lamarr, in honor of the actress/inventor Hedy Lamar.

    Hedy (maiden name Kiesler) was born in Vienna in 1914. From her early childhood she was fascinated by acting–and she was also very interested in how things worked, an interest which was encouraged by her bank-director father.  She began acting professionally in the late 1920s, and gained fame and notoriety when she appeared–briefly nude–in the film Ecstasy.  It was followed by the more respectable Sissy, in which she played the Empress Elisabeth of Austria.

    In 1933, Hedy married the arms manufacturer Friedrich Mandl, finding him charming and fascinating and also probably influenced by his vast wealth.  She was soon turned off by his Fascist connections and his extremely controlling nature–rather ridiculously, he even tried to buy up all copies and negatives of Ecstasy.  He did not allow her to pursue her acting career, but did require her to participate, mainly as eye-candy, in high level meetings with German and Italian political leaders and with people involved in military technology.  What she heard at these sessions both interested and alarmed her.

    Finding her marriage intolerable and the political situation in her country disturbing, Hedy left and first came to London. There she met MGM head Louis B Mayer, who offered her an acting job at $125/week.  She turned down the offer, but booked herself onto the same transatlantic liner as Mayer, bound for the USA.  On shipboard, she impressed him enough to receive a $500/week contract.  He told her that a name change would be desirable, and she settled on “Lamarr”…the sea.

    With the outbreak of war in Europe, Hedy followed the news closely.  For reasons that are not totally clear, she began thinking about the problems of torpedo guidance:  the ability to correct the weapon’s course on its way to the target would clearly improve the odds of a hit.  She had heard the possibility of a wire-guided torpedo discussed over dinner at Mandl’s…but this approach had limitations.  Radio was an obvious alternative, but how to prevent jamming?

    As an anti-jamming technique, she hit on the idea of having the transmitter and the receiver change frequencies simultaneously and continuously…she may have been inspired partly by the remote-control radio receiver which was available at the time, possibly either she owned one or had seen one at somebody else’s home.  With synchronized frequency changes at both ends of the radio link, jamming would be impossible unless an enemy knew and could emulate the exact pattern of the changes.  But how to synchronize the transmitter and the receiver?

    Enter Hedy’s friend George Antheil, who called himself “the bad boy of American music.”  Antheil was fascinated by player pianos and had created and performed compositions which depended on simultaneous operation of several of these players.  Maybe the punched paper strips used by player pianos could provide a solution to the frequency-hopping problem?

    US Patent 2282387, issued to Hedy Kiesler Markey (the name reflecting a brief unsuccessful marriage) and George Antheil, implemented this approach.  The feeding of the paper strip on the launching ship and that inside the torpedo would be started simultaneously, and the holes in the strips would select the frequencies to be used at any given time…88 rows are mentioned, offering 88 frequency choices, but obviously this number could be smaller or larger.  Commands to the rudder of the torpedo would be sent via modulation of a carrier wave on the always-changing frequency selected.  (The two inventors had retained an electrical engineer to assist with specification of some of the details.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Biography, Book Notes, Culture, Film, Media, Tech, War and Peace | 18 Comments »

    President Trump’s ‘Xanatos Gambit’ Government Shutdown

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 19th January 2019 (All posts by )

    Welcome to day twenty eight day of the U.S. Federal government shutdown.

    Normally “Federal Government shut downs” are a game of “chicken” where Congressional (usually GOP) and Executive Branch (usually Democrat) politicians are playing a game of virtue signaling to their political base until the accumulated  toxic waste of bad media and public protest let the Congress “compromise” on spending more money with limited blow back in their next partisan primary.

    This time is very different, and it’s far more than just a matter of political parties changing sides in government.

    President Trump is working to a “Xanatos Gambit” political-media strategy tree that looks whole lot like his 2015 GOP primary campaign from June 16, 2015 to week of December 2-8, 2015.  Where he ran a high energy offensive political campaign of “free media by outrageous statements” that sucked all the political air time out of his GOP opponent’s political campaigns and established his ‘billionaire who cares more for the common man than D.C. politicians‘ street cred’ via populist anti-open borders immigration positions of protecting American citizens from illegal immigrant Mexican criminals and Muslim terrorists.

    President Trump’s “Big  Macs served at the White House” and grounding Speaker Pelosi’s Congressional Junkets on military transports during a government shut down over funding “The Wall” are both very much in that “Xanatos Gambit” frame work.  President Trump is staying on the offensive so House Democrats and the media cannot “get off a shot” over the Government shut down.  While at the same time defining the Democrats as being only interested in the perks of government power and not the public good they are supposed to serve.

    https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/XanatosGambitDiagram_7509.jpg

    This is a decision diagram example of a “Xanatos Gambit. Source: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/XanatosGambit

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Civil Society, Current Events, Politics, Trump | 50 Comments »

    2018 Reading

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

    Some books that I read and liked over the last year…

    The Future is History, Masha Gessen.  Russia during the last days of Communism, during the transitional age, and under Putinism, viewed through the personal stories of numerous individuals.

    On Tangled Paths, Theodor Fontane.  The author has been called “The Jane Austen of Germany.”  In this novel,  it is the *male* protagonist who is under pressure to marry into money to save his family from financial disaster.  Good character development and a vivid portrayal of Berlin in the 1870s

    The Bounty:  The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty, Caroline Alexander.  The famous mutiny, the events leading up to it, and its aftermath.  A much more favorable interpretation of Captain Bligh’s character than the usual view.

    Red Star Under the Baltic, Victor Korzh.  Memoirs of a Soviet submarine commander who served in a little-known theater of WWII.  The author writes largely from an engineering perspective, and in addition to combat episodes he describes the remarkable efforts that were necessary to keep the submarine in operating condition–including such things as repurposing the bow thruster drives, while at sea, to replace the failed stern thruster drive system.

    A Pocketful of Stars and other books in the Applied Topology series by Margaret Ball, which I reviewed here.  Don’t let the Applied Topology tag scare you off; no math is required to read and enjoy.

    Born Fighting:  How the Scotts-Irish shaped America, James Webb.  Some interesting history and perspectives.  It’s worthwhile to read this book in conjunction with Thomas Sowell’s Black Rednecks and White Liberals.

    A Vagabond Journey Around the World, Harry Franck.  In 1904, this recent college graduate decided to travel around the world starting with no money at all.  (He modified this plan to carry enough cash to pay for photographic supples.)  Very interesting, though long.  Franck made and wrote about numerous other trips, including a 1930s visit to the Soviet Union which he documented in A Vagabond in Sovietland.

    A World on Edge:  The End of the Great War and the Dawn of a New Age, Daniel Schoenpflug.  The author paints the environment in the immediate aftermath of the War by telling the stories of individuals ranging from Harry Truman, Ferdinand Foch, Crown Prince Willhelm of Prussia, Arnold Schönberg, Kathe Kollwitz, Walter Gropius, and Ho Chi Min to many lesser-known individuals such as a former sailor of the German Navy and a Cossack woman named Marina Yurlova.

    Tragedy & Challenge:  An Inside View of UK Engineering’s Decline, Tom Brown.  The problems and fate of British manufacturing companies, as seen by an individual with extensive experience as an executive and board member.  There’s a review here.

    The Tyrant’s Daughter, J C Carleson.  Fifteen-year-old Laila lived a privileged life in her unnamed Middle Eastern country, where her father was absolute ruler.  Then he was killed in a coup, and she escapes with her mother and brother to a suburb of Washington DC…where she faces both the problems of fitting in at her new school and the haunting question of whether her father was indeed the monster that he is portrayed by the American news media.  This is positioned as a YA (teenager)  book, but is IMO also good reading for adults.  The author is a former CIA agent.

    The Theme is Freedom, John Dos Passos.  A collection of essays by this “Lost Generation” writer.  I quoted his observations about some of his Leftist comrades of the 1920s, here.

    Several more, which I may review individually and/or in a future batch.

    I’m currently reading a novel of the American Revolution called Celia Garth, which I learned about from a discussion at Bookworm.  It was highly recommended by Sgt Mom, among others.  I’m really liking it so far.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Business, Civil Liberties, Europe, History, Management, Russia, War and Peace | 29 Comments »

    Aunt Sally versus Huck Finn

    Posted by David Foster on 4th January 2019 (All posts by )

    A thoughtful article at The Wall Street Journal.

    Posted in Book Notes, Civil Liberties, Deep Thoughts, USA | 18 Comments »

    For the Anniversary of Pearl Harbor: Radio Silence

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 7th December 2018 (All posts by )

    (I was inspired last year about this time to do a fictional short for the Luna City universe, drawing on certain family memories of that time. The story itself is included in this collection,)

    Adeliza Gonzalez-Gonzales – who was never called anything but ‘Adi’ back then – was just thirteen when her older brother Manuel – Manolo to the family, Manny to his Anglo friends – came to Papi and Mama and said to them, “Papi, I want to see more of the world than Karnes County, an’ at the Navy recruiting office, they say that I’ll get a paycheck nice and regular, and I can work on ship engines that are bigger than this house. Besides, everyone says if America gets into a war, then they’ll be drafting men my age, an’ I don’t wanna be a soldier, marching around in the mud and all that. The Navy lives good, and they say that the food is great. Can I have your permission, Papi?”

    Mama got all pinch-faced and weepy, because Manolo was her favorite and oldest child. Papi sighed and looked solemn and grave, saying, “Manolo – mi hijo – if this is what you truly want, I will sign the papers.” To Mama, he added, “Do not cry, Estella, can you see your boy as a soldier, following orders?”

    “But he still must follow orders – the Navy is as military as the army,” Adeliza piped up, and Manolo jeered and replied, “Nothing like the same at all, Adi!”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, History, Texas | 3 Comments »

    Is Paris Burning ?

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 2nd December 2018 (All posts by )

    A famous request from Adolf Hitler was also the tile of a book about the liberation of Paris in 1944, and might be a question about the riots of this week by the “Yellow Vests”

    There is not a single media report about the Yellow Vest demonstrations in Paris and France that I’ve read or watched that has not been slanted by Fake News.

    It has (usually) not been deliberate, I gather, and nobody has said anything factually wrong; what is the problem is the fact that (very) important stuff has been omitted.

    It is not wrong to say that the demonstrations were caused by the government’s decision to raise gas prices. What is missing is that this is just one of several draconian measures dating back half a year, i.e., ‘tis the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

    It requires someone on the scene to describe what has really been happening.

    For the past four to five months, the French government has done nothing but double down on bringing more and more gratuitous oppression and more and more unwarranted persecution measures down on the necks the nation’s drivers and motorcycle riders.

    In fact, the imposition of ever harsher rules has been going on for the past decade and a half or so — whether the government was on the right or on the left — and that is why the choice of les gilets jaunes (the yellow jackets) by the demonstrators is particularly ironic.

    The 2008 law (under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy) requiring the presence of high-visibility vests (gilets de haute visibilité) aka security vests (gilets de sécurité) in every vehicle — hardly an unreasonable rule, for sure, as similar ones exist throughout the continent — was just another example of the myriad of evermore-onerous rules for car and motorcycle owners over the past 15 years, and so the government in effect provided the 2018 rebels with their uniforms.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Current Events, Europe, France | 56 Comments »

    The Great War and its Aftermath

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

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

    The Green Fields of France

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

    The Third Place

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 8th November 2018 (All posts by )

    Saloon

    I am reading, by listening to the audio, a book called The Revolt of the Elites, which was written in 1996 but I just discovered it.

    The theme, which is quite timely, is that there are two worlds in this country; that of the elites and that of everyone else. From a review on Amazon:

    Lasch was most active in the late twentieth century yet it would seem he was seeing into the future with this book and his equally (or more) famous book, The Culture of Narcissism. In Revolt of the Elites he posits that the degeneration of Western Democracy has been caused by the abandonment by the wealthy and educated elites of their responsibilities to support culture, education, the building of public facilities, etc. in these societies. The rich and educated in Western Liberal, Capitalist, Democracies have, since the 1970s, increasingly abandoned society, keeping all of their earnings to themselves and have adopted a listless transient existence forgoing any significant commitments to community.

    He makes the point that we are no longer one nation with even the well off participating in the community. We lead separate lives.

    One example of this he calls the “Third Place,” a place where the community gets together. One place is work and another is home. The Third Place used to be a gathering place where all classes could mingle and get to know each other. In my own life it was the neighborhood tavern. My father was in the Juke Box business when I was a child and he spent quite a bit of time in taverns as that was where his business was. Two taverns that I remember quite well were owned by good friends of my father’s. One served as an answering service for service calls from other taverns. Both were neighborhood places which had many customers from nearly all classes. The very rich tended not to be there but I remember quite successful businessmen and their wives who attended parties and barbecues. The tavern would have softball teams for younger customers. One of them had a private ball field across the street that was owned by the tavern owner.

    The other tavern was not far away and among its regular customers were a wealthy heiress and her husband who had been a professional golfer. Every Sunday after Mass, there was a group that would always congregate there for an hour or two before going home. Most of the regulars did not visit each other at home, but did their socializing at the tavern.

    When I was a medical student, we visited New York City in August 1965 and the friends whose apartment where we stayed, were regular customers of the local tavern. One our one visit to the tavern, the friend pointed out all the men there without women. The wives and children were all at the “shore” for the hot month of August.

    The VFW and the Elks Club and Fraternal Order of Moose served the same purpose for many. My father was an Elk. There is a scene in the Clint Eastwood movie, “Gran Torino” that shows him socializing with the friends at the VFW. (Has it been the years since that movie ?)

    Those third places are pretty much gone. The country club and even the yacht club, where I spent a lot of time socializing, are not the same. There is an economic issue although yacht clubs are full of crew members who are not members of the club but are welcome.

    The divisiveness and tribalism we see in the elections and in the national politics are probably consequences of the lack such mixing bowls of democracy.

    Posted in Book Notes, Chicagoania, Civil Society, Culture, Human Behavior, Politics | 51 Comments »

    Watching the Major Media Meltdown

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 4th November 2018 (All posts by )

    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.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Blogging, Book Notes, Civil Liberties, Conservatism, Current Events, Leftism, Media, Personal Narrative, Politics | 15 Comments »