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  • Archive for the 'Book Notes' Category

    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 | 54 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 »

    Books I’m reading

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 31st October 2018 (All posts by )

    I read four or five books at a time. I have one in each room of the house. The Kindle is for the bedroom and reading in bed. That one was “Ship of Fools” by Tucker Carlson.

    That is very good but got me depressed a bit. The best review on Amazon was:

    Don’t drink wine and read this book, you’ll get angry and make posts on social media that are completely accurate and your friends will hate you.

    I feel pretty much like that.

    I’ve been reading “Militant Normals” by Kurt Schlicter. It is less depressing and quite good.

    Then there is the audio in the car which is now, “Revolt of the Elites” by Christopher Lasch. It was written in 2016 and published in 2017 so has nothing so far about Trump.

    Today, I finished “Citizen Soldiers” by Stephen Ambrose which describes the war from Normandy to the end. It’s not just a narrative of the war but has chapters on POWs and about crooks and deserters. There was a lot of “Combat Fatigue” which got Patton into trouble. It was best treated close to the front and 90% of the soldiers returned to their units or at least went back to some job.

    I am also reading a couple of books on the back patio, one of which is “The Sleepwalkers” which is about the advent of World War I, and it will be 100 years since the Armistice in two weeks.

    The other books is, “Vatican” by Malachi Martin, which I read years ago but am rereading it. I am stimulated to read it by the antics of Pope Francis who seems to be the leftist Pope Martin warned about.

    Posted in Book Notes, History, Politics | 29 Comments »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Read the rest of this entry »

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

    Indy-Writing Scene; 2018

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 18th September 2018 (All posts by )

    The indy-author scene is not the only thing which has radically changed over the last decade; just the one that I know the best, through having the great good fortune to start as an indy author just when it was economically and technologically possible. It used to be that there were two means of being a published author. There was the traditional and most-respected way, through submission to a publishing house – which, if you were fortunate enough to catch the eye and favor of an editor, meant a contract and an advance, maybe a spot on the much-vaunted New York Times best-seller list. This was a method which – according to the old-timers – worked fairly well, up until a certain point. Some writers who have been around in the game for a long time say that when publishing houses began viewing books as commodities like cereal brands and ‘pushing’ certain brands with favored places on the aisles and endcaps, and treating authors as interchangeable widgets – that’s when the traditional model began to falter. Other experts say that it began when tax law changed to make it expensive to retain inventory in a warehouse. It was no longer profitable to maintain a goodly stock of mid-list authors with regular, if modest sales. Mainstream publishing shifted to pretty much the mindset of Hollywood movie producers, putting all their bets on a straight diet of blockbusters and nothing but blockbusters.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Business, Diversions, Entrepreneurship, Internet, Marketing | 13 Comments »

    An interesting analysis of the 2008 housing collapse.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 12th September 2018 (All posts by )

    The 2008 economic collapse gave us ten years of economic malaise and the presidency of Barack Obama.

    Why did it happen ? I have been a fan of Nicole Gelinas’ book, “After the Fall”

    I wrote a long review of it at Amazon, which is still a favorite of readers.

    Now, we have a very interesting new analysis, which blames housing almost exclusively.

    Looked at in terms of the popular narrative that there was a “financial crisis,” readers shouldn’t be fooled. There was nothing financial about what happened ten years ago. The “crisis” was made in Washington. Left alone, economies and markets never go haywire when natural market forces are putting out to pasture the weak, only to redirect the previously underutilized resources of the weak to higher uses.

    He makes an interesting point, which tracks with my own observations.

    a booming housing market of the kind experienced in the ‘70s and ‘00s is not a sign of economic vitality. Getting into specifics, a home purchase is not an investment. It won’t render the buyer more productive, open foreign markets for same, or morph into capital meant to develop something productivity-enhancing like software. Housing is consumption, that’s it. On the other hand, investment is what powers economic growth, so the very notion that a reorientation of precious capital away from consumptive goods and into production would foster economic crisis is for those who presume to comment on the economy to reveal how little they understand what they’re writing about. The feverish consumption of housing was what was holding the economy down, which means a reversal of what weighed on the economy would logically be good for growth. If so, markets would have discounted housing’s correction positively.

    I moved to Orange County in 1972 to begin my medical practice. I already owned two homes in South Pasadena which I had difficulty selling after the move. There was no appreciation of housing. By 1975, when a bear market caused a malpractice insurance crisis for doctors, my 1972 house had tripled in value. The South Pasadena house I finally sold in 1972 for the same ($35,000) price I had paid for it in 1969, was by 1979 for sale for $595,000.

    What did happen in both the 1970s and 2000s is that the dollar substantially declined vis-à-vis foreign currencies, commodities, and seemingly everything else. This matters because in both the ‘70s and ‘00s, gold, oil, wheat, land, rare stamps, art, housing, and just about every other kind of hard asset performed well. Well, of course. When money is losing value, the hard assets least vulnerable to currency devaluation perform best. In a repeat of the ‘70s, housing and other commodities proved a safe haven in the ‘00s from the U.S. Treasury’s policies in favor of a devalued dollar.

    I remember well the rush to buy gold and antiques as hedges against the post 1974 inflation. An elderly woman in Oceanside California got wide publicity for her “crazy” decision to invest her money in buying four Rolls Royces and putting them in storage. She paid about $50,000 each. Five years later they were worth about $200,000 each.

    Then came 2008.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Conservatism, Economics & Finance | 11 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: That Hideous Strength, by C S Lewis

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

    That Hideous Strength, by C S Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Read the rest of this entry »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Read the rest of this entry »

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

    William James Sidis

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 9th August 2018 (All posts by )

    I did a series on Billy Sidis 6-7 years ago which might please this group. I am posting the first essay, and linking to the others, partly because the comments under some of them were also interesting. In particular the argument with the person who insisted that my takedown of the “1867 Harvard Entrance Exam,” that circulates on the internet from time to time, was invalid brought in some rousing discussion. Please comment on any of those here rather than there, as only I will see your ideas otherwise.

    I think the story of Billy Sidis, the purported prodigy with the highest IQ (250-300) ever known, is mostly fraudulent.

    I first read about William James Sidis in the pages of Gift of Fire in the late 80’s. GoF was the journal of the Prometheus Society, a discussion group for those with measured IQ over 164. Amy Wallace’s book on Sidis, The Prodigy, had just come out, and Grady Towers took the opportunity to bring us up to speed on the early 20th C brilliant but eccentric child. That essay, “The Outsiders,” is perhaps the best known of the articles to come out of the High-IQ societies. Its primary topic is the increasing difficulty of adjustment individuals experience the further from norm they are. Terman’s studies in the 40’s of gifted individuals showed that those above 140 IQ were better adapted than average. Grady looked harder at the data and decided that those from 140-150 were better adjusted than average, but beyond that things steadily worsened. The greater frequency of those from 140-150 masked the data of the few from say, 170-180.

    It was perhaps inevitable that Grady would gravitate to the subject of Sidis. Grady qualified for the next society up, the Mega Society, for those with one-in-a-million IQ, cutoff 176. He had been a prodigy himself, almost completing a PhD in Anthropology at age 20, but by the time I knew him (via journal and correspondence), he was usually homeless, working odd jobs across the Southwest, writing on borrowed typewriters and sending mathematical proofs – usually number theory – to whoever would have them. He was murdered horribly in 2000 while working as a security guard. I liked corresponding with him.
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    Posted in Biography, Book Notes, Human Behavior | 15 Comments »

    Are Universities in the Business of Producing Jeongs?

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

    Instapundit quotes Jonah Goldberg, writing about Sarah Jeong:

    [Joseph] Schumpeter predicted, before the massive expansion of higher education, that capitalism would breed a new class of intellectuals (writers, journalists, artists, lawyers, etc.) who would be motivated by both ideology and self-interest to undermine liberal democratic capitalism. “Unlike any other type of society, capitalism inevitably and by virtue of the very logic of its civilization creates, educates and subsidizes a vested interest in social unrest,” Schumpeter wrote in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. He adds a bit further on: “For such an atmosphere [of social hostility to capitalism] to develop it is necessary that there be groups whose interest it is to work up and organize resentment, to nurse it, to voice it and to lead it.”

    Sarah Jeong is not the ideal example of what Schumpeter was talking about, viz. capitalism (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez fits that bill better). But she is a good example of the larger adversary culture that universities not only “nudge” students toward, but actively indoctrinate them into. Simply put, there is an entire industry dedicated to the proposition that not just the American past, but the American present, is disordered, bigoted, and oppressive. And Jeong’s meteoric and meritocratic rise demonstrates how so many of our best and brightest have gotten that message. How many have internalized it as ideology or have just cynically decided that’s how you get ahead is an open question.

    …which reminded me of an observation made a long time ago:

    Francis Bacon pointed out four hundred years ago that one reason for sedition and mutiny in any polity was “breeding more scholars than preferment can take off”…

    (Honor: A History, by James Bowman)

    A modern translation of “breeding more scholars than preferment can take off” might be “graduating more PhDs than have any hope of getting tenure.”

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, History, Leftism, USA | 11 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Wolf Among Wolves, by Hans Fallada

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

    Hans Fallada’s novel Little Man, What Now?, which I reviewed here, impressed me enough to look up some of  Fallada’s other works.  Wolf Among Wolves, was published later than LMWN, but set in an earlier period: 1923, the time of the great Weimar inflation. It tells the story of a collapsing society through the intertwined lives of many characters, who include:

    Petra Ledig, a sweet-natured girl from a rough background in Berlin, driven into prostitution by financial desperation. On impulse, she asks one of her clients to take her home with him, and he does. That man is…

    Wolfgang Pagel, son of a fairly-well-off but overprotective and controlling mother–the mother being less than thrilled about his relationship with Petra. Wolf supports himself and Petra, in a very marginal way, by working as a professional gambler. One day in Berlin, Wolf meets up again with an old Army acquaintance…

    Joachim von Prackwitz, who everyone calls the Rittmeister (cavalry captain). The Rittmeister married the daughter of a major landowner in East Prussia and is now managing a large farm at Neulohe under lease from his father-in-law, who cannot stand him…indeed, the father-in-law does everything he can to make the Rittmeister’s life miserable, including for example scheming to increase his portion of the electric bill from the estate’s shared diesel generator. (This is surely the only novel I’ve read in which depreciation and cost-allocation calculations come into play.) The Rittmeister was known in the Army as a brave if not terribly bright officer and a good comrade, but he is having great difficulty in dealing with the pressures of his civilian life.

    Eva, the Rittmeister’s well-balanced and long-suffering wife, is losing confidence in her husband and is very worried about the erratic and mysterious behavior of her daughter Violet, an attractive 15-year-old who has developed a passionate and secret crush on…

    The Lieutenant, agent for a group of former military men who are plotting a putsch against the Weimar government

    Mr Studmann, another Army friend of Wolf’s, who has been working as front-desk manager for a hotel. He and Wolf are both invited by the Rittmeister to leave Berlin and come help with the running of the farm. Despite his total lack of agricultural experience, Studmann turns out to be a very effective manager, using the skills he developed at the hotel. Eva is drawn to Studmann, seeing in him the stability and rationality that are absent in her husband–and he is VERY attracted to her.

    Raeder, a young and deeply weird servant who has an unwholesome sexual attraction toward Violet

    One “character” never absent from the story is the mark, the German unit of currency. In fact, the valuation of the mark is mentioned in the very first page of the book:

    This is Berlin, Georgenkirchstrasse, third courtyard, fourth floor, July 1923, at six o’clock in the morning. The dollar stands for the moment at 414,000 marks.

    (By the end of the period covered in the story, the dollar-to-market conversion rate was a trillion to one.)

    A few samples of the writing. Here, a description of Violet’s attraction toward the Lieutenant:

    He was quite different from all the men she had yet known. Even if he were an officer, he in no way resembled the officers of the Reichswehr who had asked her to dance at the balls in Ostade and Frankfurt. The latter had always treated her with extreme courtesy; she was always the “young lady” with whom they chatted airily and politely of hunting, horses, and perhaps of the harvest. In Lieutenant Fritz she had as yet discovered no politeness. He had dawdled through the woods with her, chatting away as if she were some ordinary girl; he had taken her arm and held it, and had let it go again, as if this had been no favor…Just because he thought so little of her, because his visits were so short and irregular, just because all his promises were so unreliable…just because he was never polite to her, she had succumbed to him almost without resistance. He was so different. Mystery and adventure hovered around him…Infinite fire, mysterious adventure, a wonderful darkness, in which one may be naked without shame! Poor Mamma, who has never known this! Poor Papa–so old with your white temples! For me ever new paths, ever different adventures!

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Civil Society, Economics & Finance, Germany, History | 3 Comments »

    On Trusting Experts…and Which Experts to Trust

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

    August 1, 1914. As Europe moved inexorably toward catastrophe, Kaiser Wilhelm II was getting cold feet at the prospect of a two-front war. When a telegram arrived suggesting that the war might be contained to a Germany-vs-Russia conflict, the Kaiser jumped at the opportunity.

    The telegram was from Prince Lichnowsky, the German ambassador in London, reporting on a conversation with the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey. As Lichnowsky interpreted Grey’s remarks, England would stay neutral–and also guarantee France’s neutrality–if Germany would confine herself to attacking Russia and would promise not to attack France. (Which was a misinterpretation–but more on that later.)

    Immediately, the Kaiser called in General von Moltke, the Chief of Staff, and gave him his new marching orders: turn around the troops destined for the attack in the west, and redirect them to the eastern front. Barbara Tuchman writes of Moltke’s reaction.

    Aghast at the thought of his marvelous mobilization wrenched into reverse, Moltke refused point-blank. For ten years, first as assistant to Schlieffen, then as his successor, Moltke’s job had been planning for this day, The Day, Der Tag, for which all Germany’s energies were gathered, on which the march to final mastery of Europe would begin. It weighed upon him with an oppressive, almost unbearable responsibility…Now, on the climactic night of August 1, Moltke was in no mood for any more of the Kaiser’s meddling with serious military matters, or with medling of any kind of the fixed arrangements. To turn around the deployment of a million men from west to east at the very moment of departure would have taken a more iron nerve than Moltke disposed of. He saw a vision of the deployment crumbling apart in confusion, supplies here, soldiers there, ammunation lost in the midle, companies without officers, divisions without staffs, and those 11,000 trains, each exquisitely scheduled to click over specified tacks at specified intervals of ten minutes, tangled in a grotesque ruin of the most perfectly planned military movement in history.

    “Your majesty,” Moltke said to him now, “it cannot be done. The deployment of millions cannot be improvised…Those arrangements took a whole year of intricate labor to complete…and once settled, it cannot be altered.”

    “Your uncle would have given me a different answer,” the Kaiser said to him bitterly.

    It was not until after the war that General von Staab–Chief of the Railway Division and the man who would have actually been responsible for the logistics of the redirection–learned about this interchange between Moltke and the Kaiser. Incensed by the implied insult to the capabilities of his bureau, he wrote a book, including pages of detailed charts and graphs, proving that it could have been done.

    So, what happened here? The Kaiser trusted his military expert, von Moltke–but the real expert in railway operations (and this was substantially a railway question)–disagreed. At the time of decision-making, von Staab’s personal opinion was never even solicited.

    Clearly, what the Kaiser should have said when faced with Moltke’s opposition was “Tell von Staab to get his ass in here, and let’s talk about it.” (Or however a German Emperor would have phrased that thought.) Indeed, there was particular reason to do this, given that the Kaiser evidently had some serious concerns about Moltke–as evidenced by his passive-aggressive “your uncle would have given me a different answer” comment.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, Germany, History, Human Behavior, Management, Military Affairs, War and Peace | 17 Comments »

    Book Review: A Pocketful of Stars, by Margaret Ball

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

    There aren’t a lot of novels in which the protagonist and the other leading characters are mathematicians.  Here, we have not just a single novel, but a whole series–a total of six books projected.

    Thalia Kostis is a young topology student.  Her Greek-immigrant parents think very little of her mathematical interests,  insisting that she quickly get married off and start producing grandchildren.  She wants a career in pure mathematics, yet has begun questioning her own ability to do pure-math research at the highest level–she worries that her abilities do not compare with those of her roommate Inga, a (tall, blonde, and beautiful) grad student who is also focused on topology. Also, Thalia has been ditched by her former boyfriend, partly because he feels that her mathematical investigations have become just too…disturbing.

    What could be disturbing about pure math?  By chance, Thalia has discovered that by thinking about topological theorems in exactly the right way, she can influence the physical world.  Not a large influence, it appears–but she can move light objects a small distance without touching them.  It turns out that Inga has the same ability, as does Thalia’s best friend Ben. So, it’s not just topology anymore, but…potentially at least…applied topology, and a small research institute has been established at the University of Texas to see where the possibilities lead. The offices of Thalia, Ben, and Inga are separated from the rest of the building by a wall, and it’s a wall with no door…the group having determined that by proper topological thinking, they can pass through solid walls.  The only way for guests without the talent to get into this office area is to be escorted by a talented individual in very close proximity to them.

    One day a man named Bradislav Lensky comes to meet Thalia and the other Institute researchers.  (We are never told exactly which agency, but we can be sure it isn’t the FBI given his frequent remarks about what idiots the employees of that agency mostly are.)  Lensky desires the mathematicians to use their talents to hack into a computer which he suspects is being used to plan a major terrorist attack, probably by bringing Middle Eastern terrorists across the Mexican border. He also informs them that all of their Institute’s funding is actually being supplied by his agency–the foundation which they had thought was their sponsor being actually merely a conduit.  So how can they say no?

    There are numerous other characters.  One of these is a box turtle, encountered by Thalia and Ben at the park, with a band fastened tightly around his neck causing him great distress.  He is Niiquarquusu, a 3000-year-old Mesopotamian talking turtle with a rather grumpy personality–the grumpiness continues after he is liberated from his neckband, but he has abilities of his own which are quite useful when he can be persuaded to use them.  The key, it seems, is proper calibration of the amount of coffee that the turtle (dubbed “Mr M” for convenience)  is given..too little and he will be uncooperative, too much and he will behave in an unproductive and often embarrassing manner.  (Characters discover that before having sex, they need to check carefully to ensure that Mr M is not in the room—he tends to make snide comments, probably comparing the participants unfavorably with the way things were done in ancient Mesopotamia.)

    A fun series with interesting plot twists and characters.  It is not for the politically correct, having already garnered one very upset review at Goodreads.

    I’ve read the three books that have been published so far and am looking forward to the continuation.

    A Pocketful of Stars, at Amazon

    Posted in Book Notes, Product Reviews/Endorsements | 5 Comments »

    Wilder Othering

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 14th July 2018 (All posts by )

    I cannot say how much the ditching of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name for a yearly award for the best in published books for children and young adults distresses and disappoints me. I am one of those millions of readers who read and adored the Little House books early on, which various volumes my parents presented to me for Christmas and my birthday from the time that I could read – basically from the age of eight on. I would sit down and read the latest gift from cover to cover almost at once, so much did I love the books. After so many decades of honor, respect, and dedicated fanship, after having basically created (along with her daughter) a whole YA genre – historical adventure novels set on the 19th century frontier – LIW is now writer-non-grata, in the eyes of a segment of the American Library Association which deals primarily with library services to kids. Henceforward, sayeth the Association for Library Service to Children, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award will now be called The Children’s Literature Legacy Award, or something equally forgettable. The public reason given for this are two-fold, as nearly as I can deduce.
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    Posted in Academia, Americas, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Civil Society, Culture, Current Events, History, Libertarianism, Society | 20 Comments »

    Conformity, Cruelty, and Political Activism

    Posted by David Foster on 10th July 2018 (All posts by )

    John Dos Passos was an American writer.  In his younger years, he was a man of the Left, and, like many leftists and some others he was very involved with the Sacco and Vanzetti case.

    But he was more than a little disturbed by some of those that shared his viewpoint.  Describing one protest he had attended, he wrote:

    From sometime during this spring of 1926 of from the winter before a recollection keeps rising to the surface. The protest meeting is over and I’m standing on a set of steps looking into the faces of the people coming out of the hall. I’m frightened by the tense righteousness of the faces. Eyes like a row of rifles aimed by a firing squad. Chins thrust forward into the icy night. It’s almost in marching step that they stride out into the street. It’s the women I remember most, their eyes searching out evil through narrowed lids. There’s something threatening about this unanimity of protest. They are so sure they are right.

    I agree with their protest:  I too was horrified by this outrage.  I’m not one either to stand by and see injustice done.  But do I agree enough?  A chill goes down by spine..Whenever I remember the little scene I tend to turn it over in my mind.  Why did my hackles rise at the sight of the faces of these good people coming out of the hall? 

    Was it a glimpse of the forming of a new class conformity that like all class conformities was bent on riding the rest of us?

    Quoting Dos Passos and connecting his observations to our own time, Jay Nordlinger wrote:

    I know these people. I saw them in Ann Arbor. I saw them in many other places afterward.  Today, you can see them on campuses as “SJWs”: “social-justice warriors.” You can see them wherever there is arrogant, intolerant extremism (no matter which direction it’s coming from).

    The thing that frightened Dos Passos in the attitude of these protestors–who were, remember, his allies–is in my opinion quite similar to the thing that is so disturbing about so many of today’s “progressive” protestors.  Dos (as he was called) was entirely correct to be disturbed by what he saw, but I don’t think he diagnosed it quite correctly.  Though he refers to the protestors he observed as “those good people,” quite likely many of them weren’t good people at all–even if they were right about their cause–but were rather engaging in the not-good-at-all pleasure of conformity and the enforcement thereof, and would given half a chance have gone all the way to the even-worse pleasure of bullying.

    Whether or not this view of the protestors’ motivations is a fair one–and I am simply layering the explanation that seems to make sense to me on top of Dos’s description of his own subjective reactions–the spirt of conformity certainly drives a great deal of political and other wickedness.  I remember a German man who was interviewed near the beginning of the TV series The World at War.  Although he was anti-Nazi, he described the emotional pull he felt when viewing Party rallies–a strong desire to be part of such a cohesive and comitted group.

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    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, History, Human Behavior, Leftism, USA | 16 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Nice Work, by David Lodge

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

    Nice Work by David Lodge

    What happens when an expert on 19th-century British industrial novels—who is a professor, a feminist, and a deconstructionist–finds herself in an actual factory?

    This not being a time-travel novel, the factory is a contemporary one for the book’s setting in mid-1980s Britain.  It is a metalworking plant called Pringle’s, run by managing director Vic Wilcox.  Vic is not thrilled when his boss  (Pringle’s is owned by a conglomerate) suggests that he participate in something called the “shadow” program, designed to make academics and businesspeople better-acquainted with one another, but he goes along with the request.

    Robyn Penrose, literature professor at a nearby university, is also not thrilled about her nomination to participate in the program, but she is concerned about her job in an era of reduced university funding, and also thinks she had better do as asked.  The way the program works is that Robyn will be Vic’s “shadow,”  joining him at the plant every Wednesday, sitting in on his regular activities, and learning just a bit about what is involved in managing a business.

    Vic is a self-made man, not well-educated and with few interests outside work.  He is acutely aware of the danger that faces Pringle’s under the current economic climate, and is resolved that his factory will not join the long list of those that have been tossed on the scrapheap.

    There is nothing quite so forlorn as a closed factory–Vic Wilcox knows, having supervised a shutdown himself in his time.  A factory is sustained by the energy of its own functioning, the throb and whine of machinery, the unceasing motion of assembly lines, the ebb and flow of workers changing shifts, the hiss of airbrakes and the growl of diesel engines from wagons delivering raw materials at one gate, taking away finished goods at the other.  When you put a stop to all that, when the place is silent and empty, all that is left is a large, ramshackle shed–cold, filthy and depressing.  Well, that won’t happen at Pringle’s, hopefully, as they say.  Hopefully.

    Robyn and Vic dislike each other on first meeting:  Vic sees Robyn’s profession as useless, which Robyn sees Vic’s managerial role as brutal and greedy.  She is appalled by what she sees in her first tour of the factory..especially the foundry:

    They crossed another yard, where hulks of obsolete machinery crouched, bleeding rust into their blankets of snow, and entered a large building with a high vaulted roof hidden in gloom.  This space rang with the most barbaric noise Robyn had ever experienced…The floor was covered with a black substance that looked like soot, but grated under the soles of her boots like sand.  The air reeked with a sulphurous, resinous smell, and a fine drizzle of black dust fell on their heads from the roof.  Here and there the open doors of furnaces glowed a dangerous red, and in the far corner of the building what looked like a stream of molten lave trickled down a curved channel from roof to floor…It was the most terrible place she had ever been in her life.  To say that to herself restored the original meaning of the word “terrible”:  it provoked terror, even a kind of awe.  To think of being that man, wrestling with the heavy awkward lumps of metal in that maelstrom of heat, dust and stench, deafened by the unspeakable noise of the vibrating grid, working like that for hour after hour, day after day….That he was black seemed the final indignity:  her heart swelled with the recognition of the spectacle’s powerful symbolism.

    But still:

    The situation was so bizarre, so totally unlike her usual environment, that there was a kind of exhilaration to be found in it…She thought of what her colleagues and students might be doing this Wednesday morning–earnestly discussing the poetry of John Donne or the novels of Jane Austen or the nature of modernism, in centrally heated, carpeted rooms…Penny Black would be feeding more statistics on wife-beating in the West Midlands into her data-base, and Robyn’s mother would be giving a coffee morning for some charitable cause…What would they all think if they could see her now?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Britain, Business, Human Behavior, Management | 1 Comment »

    An American Version of the Habsburg Empire?

    Posted by David Foster on 13th June 2018 (All posts by )

    Based on a recommendation from Sgt Mom, I recently read A Sailor of Austria, a novel about an Austrian submarine commander in WWI.  I thought it was excellent, but this post isn’t a book review.

    Both this novel and the memoirs of a real-life Austrian sub commander, Captain Georg von Trapp, portray the intergroup tensions that plagued the multinational/multiethnic/multilanguage/multireligious entity that was the Austro-Hungarian empire.  These tensions only got worse, of course, as the war situation turned darker.  For example, Captain von Trapp, while having some shipyard work done in his submarine, observed that “the work is actually delayed. It is quite similar to Penelope’s tapestry: mysterious forces impede the construction. The crew is suspicious.”  He thought it likely that Czechs working in the shipyard were deliberately slowing the work, noting that  “At the American declaration of war, they supposedly really celebrated, but you can’t pin anything on them.”

    Reading A Sailor of Austria reminded me of my 2011 post Government Overreach and Ethnic Conflict, in which I quoted AJP Taylor:

    The Austrian state suffered from its strength: it had never had its range of activity cut down during a successful period of laissez-faire, and therefore the openings for a national conflict were far greater. There were no private schools or hospitals, no independent universities; and the state, in its infinite paternalism, performed a variety of services from veterinary surgery to the inspecting of buildings. The appointment of every school teacher, of every railway porter, of every hospital doctor, of every tax-collector, was a signal for national struggle. Besides, private industry looked to the state for aid from tariffs and subsidies; these, in every country, produce ‘log-rolling,’ and nationalism offered an added lever with which to shift the logs. German industries demanded state aid to preserve their privileged position; Czech industries demanded state aid to redress the inequalities of the past. The first generation of national rivals had been the products of universities and fought for appointment at the highest professional level: their disputes concerned only a few hundred state jobs. The generation which followed them was the result of universal elementary education and fought for the trivial state employment which existed in every village; hence the more popular national conflicts at the turn of the century.

    The present-day US doesn’t have the level of government dominance that existed in the Austro-Hungarian empire, certainly, but the degree to which many nominally-private activities are now government-funded (universities, healthcare)–combined with the extreme politicization of everything from coffee to football–is helping to drive those same behaviors of intergroup squabbling.

    It does seem that the US is in danger of ceasing to be a nation-state at all and transitioning into a  multinational, multiethnic, multilingual, multireligious, gender-divided empire comprised of groups that are primarily interested in gaining power over their internal rivals.

    Discuss

    Posted in Big Government, Biography, Book Notes, Culture, Europe, History, Society, USA | 18 Comments »

    “Meet Margaret Ball”

    Posted by Jonathan on 20th May 2018 (All posts by )

    An interview with SF author and Chicago Boyz contributor Margaret Ball. Worth reading.

    Margaret’s Amazon author page is here.

    Posted in Book Notes | 1 Comment »

    The Last Realist

    Posted by Grurray on 17th May 2018 (All posts by )

  • ©2002 Everett Raymond Kinstler Source

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    By now you’ve all seen, heard, and read that the great Tom Wolfe died this week. His social satire and sardonic wit carved out a distinctive path through post-modern America. Wolfe championed a literary style that was part journalism, part acerbic effervescence. Few (if any) recent writers were better able to craft stories by such vivid portrayals of particular people in particular places at particular times.

    Here is Tom Wolfe in one of his many interviews with William F. Buckley on Firing Line. Just two mid-century Yale Men parlaying over the Black Panthers, Bernstein, Balzac, Homo Ludens, and the Mets disappointing season.

    The question by the gentleman at around 39:45 is actually a good one and a complaint Wolfe faced his entire career. As a chronicler, he had a tendency to paint the events into flourishes that steered the situations toward the underlying themes that he was using to make his broader point. Conversely, as a novelist he was accused of conflating ordinary details into fantastic baroque ideals.

    There’s no denying that Wolfe was the master of expansive simplification. The principles of his style required a complete accounting of all the dimensions of the scene.

    The culmination of that manifesto was nowhere more on display than in his masterpiece The Bonfire of the Vanities. Here is snippet from chapter 5 following Kramer walking into the DA’s office.

    The guard buzzed Kramer through the gate, and Kramer’s running shoes
    squeaked on the marble floor. The guard gave them a dubious onceover. As
    usual, Kramer was carrying his leather shoes in an A&P shopping bag.
     
    Beyond the entryway, the level of grandeur in the District Attorney’s
    Office went up and down. The office of Weiss himself was bigger and showier,
    thanks to its paneled walls, than the Mayor of New York’s. The bureau chiefs,
    for Homicide, Investigations, Major Offenses, Supreme Court, Criminal Court,
    and Appeals, had their share of the paneling and the leather or school-of
    leather couches and the Contract Sheraton armchairs. But by the time you got
    down to an assistant district attorney, like Larry Kramer, you were looking at
    Good Enough for Government Work when it came to interior decoration.
     
    The two assistant district attorneys who shared the office with him, Ray
    Andriutti and Jimmy Caughey, were sitting sprawled back in the swivel chairs.
    There was just enough floor space in the room for three metal desks, three
    swivel chairs, four filing cabinets, an old coat stand with six savage hooks
    sticking out from it, and a table bearing a Mr. Coffee machine and a
    promiscuous heap of plastic cups and spoons and a gummy collage of paper
    napkins and white sugar envelopes and pink saccharine envelopes stuck to a
    maroon plastic tray with a high sweet-smelling paste composed of spilled coffee
    and Cremora powder. Both Andriutti and Caughey were sitting with their legs
    crossed in the same fashion. The left ankle was resting on top of the right
    knee, as if they were such studs, they couldn’t have crossed their legs any
    farther if they had wanted to. This was the accepted sitting posture of
    Homicide, the most manly of the six bureaus of the District Attorney’s Office.
     
    Both had their jackets off and hung with the perfect give-a-shit
    carelessness on the coatrack. Their shirt collars were unbuttoned, and their
    necktie knots were pulled down an inch or so. Andriutti was rubbing the back
    of his left arm with his right hand, as if it itched. In fact, he was feeling
    and admiring his triceps, which he pumped up at least three times a week by
    doing sets of French curls with dumbbells at the New York Athletic Club.
    Andriutti could afford to work out at the Athletic Club, instead of on a carpet
    between a Dracaena fragrans tub and a convertible couch, because he
    didn’t have a wife and a child to support in an $888-a-month ant colony in the
    West Seventies. He didn’t have to worry about his triceps and his deltoids and
    his lats deflating. Andriutti liked the fact that when he reached around behind
    one of his mighty arms with the other hand, it made the widest muscles of his
    back, the lats, the latissima dorsae, fan out until they practically split his
    shirt, and his pectorals hardened into a couple of mountains of pure muscle.
    Kramer and Andriutti were of the new generation, in which the terms triceps,
    deltoids, latissima dorsae, and pectoralis major were better known than the
    names of the major planets. Andriutti rubbed his triceps a hundred and twenty
    times a day, on the average.

    And that’s just the scene and status. The dialogue continues with the obligatory obscenities and a glimpse of “donkey loyalty”, as Wolfe calls the tribal ties that contrast the “Favor Bank” of the legal system.

    Rest in Peace Tom Wolfe, and thank you for your works that contributed to our awareness and understanding of this ever perplexing world.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Civil Society, Culture, Leftism, Lit Crit, Obits, Rhetoric, Society, Urban Issues, USA | 11 Comments »

    The Worst Day At Work, Ever

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 13th May 2018 (All posts by )

    The absolute nadir of bad days at work was sketched briefly in a recent book about the Revolutionary War battle of Saratoga – a decisive turning point in that war. There is nothing much new in Dean Snow’s 1777: Tipping Point at Saratoga, save that the author has gone through just about every set of archives, memoirs, and reminisces existing, along with an exhaustive survey of the site itself, and produced an hour by hour account. No mean feat, especially since keeping track of time was an inexact science. (And would be for at least another eighty years, when the developing railways, with requirements for exact timetables over long distances, and necessary scheduling of use on single track routes made it mandatory that scrupulous attention be paid to these matters.)

    Briefly, that campaign was series of battles, skirmishes, and clashes on the banks of the Hudson River where it passes through upstate New York; the culmination of a grand plan to slice the rebellious colonies in – if not half – at least thirds. The supreme British commander, General William Howe (rumored to be a backstairs cousin to George III, his granny having had a productive affair with George I), was pleasantly ensconced in New York, where he was assisted in his revolution-suppression duties by General Henry Clinton. The British forces had chased the rebellious colonials out of New York some months previously. All the notable cities of the Colonies were ocean ports; Boston, New York, Charleston, Savannah. Only Philadelphia was an exception – and it sat on the inland reaches of the Delaware River. Still a port – but far inland from the Atlantic Ocean. In any case, the grand scheme was to split off New England from the other rebellious colonies by coming down from Canada with an overwhelming force of British regular troops and hired German mercenaries.
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    Posted in Americas, Book Notes, Diversions, History, USA, War and Peace | 19 Comments »

    A Brief History…

    Posted by Jonathan on 11th May 2018 (All posts by )

    Michael Kennedy’s A Brief History of Disease, Science and Medicine is now available on Kindle.

    It joins Michael’s more recent book, War Stories: 50 Years in Medicine, which is a fascinating and informative read.

    Posted in Book Notes, History, Medicine, Personal Narrative | 6 Comments »

    Ancient DNA, Genetics and Race

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 6th April 2018 (All posts by )

    UPDATE: Greg Cochrane is doing chapter by chapter discussion of the Reich book so I will just link to his discussion. This week it is the chapter on India.

    On the whole, people from North India have more ANI ancestry, while people in southern Indian have more ASI ancestry. The proportions generally range from 80% ANI to 80% ASI. There are actually a few populations that are close to unmixed ANI (Kalash) or unmixed ASI (tribal populations in South India such as Palliyar, Ulladan, Malayan, and Adiyan). Groups that speak Indo-European languages typically have more ANI, while those speaking Dravidian have more ASI. Populations (including castes) with higher social status generally have more ANI ancestry. The Y-chromosome and mtDNA patterns show that ANI contributed a disproportionate fraction of male ancestry, while ASI accounts for the great majority of female ancestry – again, much like Latin America.

    The Y chromosome suggests male ancestry in a situation where the male conquerer mates with female conquered tribes.

    The Brahmins have the highest proportion of ANI or Indo European genetic material.

    I don’t know how many here are interested in this but the new book by David Reich may prove to be as revolutionary as Murray’s “The Bell Curve”.

    I’m reading the new book, “Who We Are and How We Got Here”.

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    Posted in Book Notes, Science, Tech | 30 Comments »