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  • Archive for the 'Deep Thoughts' Category

    Rerun- Memo on Royal Families

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 8th November 2017 (All posts by )

    To: The Usual Media
    From: Sgt.Mom
    Re: Use of a Particular Cliche

    1. I refer, of course, to the lazy habit of more than a few of you to refer to the Kennedy family, of Hyannisport, late of the White House, and Camelot, as “royalty”, without use of the appropriate viciously skeptical quote marks. Please cease doing this immediately, lest I snap my mental moorings entirely, track down the most current offender, and beat him/her bloody with a rolled-up copy of the Constitution. This is the US of A, for god’s sake. We do not have royalty.

    2. We did, once, as an agreeable and moderately loyal colony of His Majesty, Geo. III, before becoming first rather testy and then quite unreasonable about the taxation and representation thingy, but we put paid to the whole notion of hereditary monarchy for ourselves some two centuries and change ago. There is a certain amount of respect and affection for certain of Geo. III’s descendants, including the current incumbent; a lady of certain age with the curious and old-fashioned habit of always wearing distinctive hats, and carrying a handbag with no discernible reason for doing so. (What does Queen E. II have in her handbag, anyway? Not her house-key to all the residences; not her car keys; not a checkbook and credit cards, not a pocket calendar or business card case, not a spare pair of stockings— I understand the lady-in-waiting takes care of that — handkerchief, maybe? In the case of her late mother, a flask of gin?) Oh, anyway, back to the subject: royalty, or why we, a free people, should feel any need to grovel before the descendants of particularly successful freebooters, mercenary businessmen, and social climbing whores of both sexes. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Britain, Conservatism, Culture, Deep Thoughts, History, Reruns | 22 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 28th September 2017 (All posts by )

    Things that were once common knowledge…and now are not

    Advice on leadership for Naval Academy cadets…applicable in other walks of life as well

    A time-lapse video of 30 days at sea

    Animated films:  a transition both in technologies and in implicit political messages

    Who murdered beauty?…an analysis of some trends in the world of art

    Cedar Sanderson asks What do Environmentalists, JRR Tolkein, Luddites, and Progressives all have in common?

    Company towns, then and now

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Business, Deep Thoughts, Film, Science, Society, Tech, Transportation | 8 Comments »

    Dangerous Math Teachers

    Posted by TM Lutas on 17th September 2017 (All posts by )

    The proposition that logic is a universal, is unitary, used to be something of a consensus position. The idea of universal logic was (and remains) very useful. It meant that one could, without any other shared beliefs, have some sort of conversation with anybody and, if constructed correctly, the conversation would progress and lead somewhere.

    Communism does not believe in the universality of logic. This is why communism keeps coming back. Logical refutations have no effect because they are constructed with bourgeois logic, something that a priori is rejected by communists as an improper lens for examining communism.

    If you don’t care about truth per se and want an indestructible ideology, this weeble like characteristic of not accepting logical refutation is very attractive. This is why ideologies that have no particular opinion on economic class or the proper way to distribute goods and services fall into the communist orbit. Their defects need to be papered over and the communists provide the only available cure for pesky objective, logical examination and refutation.

    In a communist country, teaching logic is both a dangerous act and a necessary act. Without any logic at all society collapses. With a well taught, well formed mind schooled in logic, communism is rejected, which means a trip to reeducation or worse.

    Yet throughout the communist period, math teachers went and taught their lessons including the concepts of logic and how to apply it to students. Philosophically, they were behind enemy lines and entirely within the power of their enemies while they openly taught a major building intellectual concept that doomed the State.

    This is bravery, and almost entirely unrecognized.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Education, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Systems Analysis | 26 Comments »

    Summer Rerun – Book Review: That Hideous Strength

    Posted by David Foster on 15th September 2017 (All posts by )

    (people tend to think of summer as being over after Labor Day, but actually, it extends until the September Equinox, which this year is on September 22)

    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, Arts & Letters, Bioethics, Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Civil Liberties, Conservatism, Crime and Punishment, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Political Philosophy | 13 Comments »

    Remedial Reading for a ‘New Yorker’ Writer

    Posted by David Foster on 9th September 2017 (All posts by )

    This New Yorker writer seems to feel that, had government been adequately respected, funded and supported (and the dangers of Climate Change properly recognized), the ‘Cajun Navy’ of volunteer rescuers would not have been needed.

    Glenn Reynolds suggests that the author has apparently never read Alexis de Tocqueville.  (Or, alternatively, I would suggest, may have read him but not really understood him all that well)

    Tocqueville, of course, wrote famously (in his book Democracy in America) about the tendency of Americans to come together and form voluntary associations to accomplish particular goals, without anyone having to tell them to do so.

    Tocqueville also wrote another book, The Old Regime and the French Revolution, in which he traced the constancy of certain aspects of French society across the monarchy and the Republic.  In an appendix, he argues that “the physiognomy of governments can be best detected in their colonies, and rendered more conspicuous.”  Looking at French Canada under Louis XIV and Algeria under the Republic, he wrote:

    In both places the government numbers as many heads as the people; it preponderates, acts, regulates, controls, undertakes everything, provides for everything, knows far more about the subject’s business than he did hiself–is, in short, incessantly active and sterile.

    He contrasts this system–under which “there was not a shadow of municipal or provincial institutions; and no collective or individual action was tolerated” with that in America:

    In the United States, on the contrary, the English anti-centralization system was carried to an extreme.  Parishes became independent municipalities, almost democratic republics.  The republican element, which forms, so to say, the foundation of the English constitution and English habits, shows itself and develops without hindrance. Government proper does little in England and individuals do a great deal; in America, government never interferes, so to speak, and individuals do everything.

    Rose Wilder Lane also found it useful to contrast the differing colonial strategies of European powers:  France and Spain, on the one hand, and Britain, on the other:

    The Governments gave them (in the case of the French and Spanish colonies–ed) carefully detailed instructions for clearing and fencing the land, caring for the fence and the gate, and plowing and planting, cultivating, harvesting, and dividing the crops…The English Kings were never so efficient. They gave the land to traders. A few gentlemen, who had political pull enough to get a grant, organized a trading company; their agents collected a ship-load or two of settlers and made an agreement with them which was usually broken on both sides…To the scandalized French, the people in the English colonies seemed like undisciplined children, wild, rude, wretched subjects of bad rulers.

    Does the New Yorker writer also see Americans as “undisciplined children, wild, rude, wretched subjects of bad rulers,” with the badness of the rulers lying mainly in their not having been given enough power?

    It strikes me that Leftists are mostly very institutional people….they believe that things must be done by people who are properly trained and credentialed, organized in a top-down manner.

    This attitude was very much on display when, immediately after 9/11, the idea of arming airline pilots was first mooted. Media types were appalled; to them, there are people who are trained and credentialed to fly airplanes and there are people who are trained and credentialed to carry firearms on behalf of the government, and never the twain shall meet.

    (And, of course, it was action of the passengers, not coordinated by any central authority, that prevented Flight 93 from being used to conduct even greater devastation on 9/11.)

    Robert Heinlein wrote: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

    Such thoughts are anathema to the Institutional Left.

    See also Lead and Gold on Elite Panic and The Hive Mind, also People are the Design Margin, by Richard Fernandez.

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, France, History, Human Behavior, Leftism, Society, USA | 28 Comments »

    Iconoclasm

    Posted by Lexington Green on 15th August 2017 (All posts by )

    Something was nagging at the back of my mind about the recent push to destroy all Civil War monuments in the South. The argument usually advanced is that these statues celebrate the Confederacy and slavery so they should be removed. That case is facially plausible.

    However, the destruction of monuments seems to be accelerating, with a move from organized removal, lawfully conducted, to mobs toppling the statues spontaneously.

    Watching this video is a good example of the trend.

    Then I saw today that activists are demanding that statues of Theodore Roosevelt be taken down, because he was apparently also “racist”.

    And today the Lincoln Memorial was vandalized.

    In the past, there have been outbreaks of this sort of behavior, and they have tended to get out of control. There was the original iconoclast movement in Byzantium. There was a massive destruction of religious images during the Reformation. There was a similar outbreak of mob attacks on religious statues and images during the French revolution. During the early days of the Spanish Civil War, mobs spontaneously attacked and destroyed churches. There is a famous photo of men in civilian clothes taking pot shots at a large crucifix, somewhere in Spain in 1936.

    The Wikipedia article lists many such outbreaks.

    The Chinese Cultural Revolution seems the most apt comparison to where this is going. The Red Guards tried to stamp out the entirety of Chinese history up to their own time. Everything that had occurred before their revolution was corrupt and any attempt to preserve it was a political offense requiring the harshest possible personal attack, including violent attack, and including death. Further, the activities escalate because people must engage in increasingly extreme behavior to show their commitment and fervor. Slacking off becomes suspect.

    The fact that this is a recurring phenomenon, with similar patterns repeating in various cultures over thousands of years, suggests that there is a generalized psychological impulse which can express itself anywhere if conditions are right, especially an ideological motivation.

    The inner logic of Political Correctness, in the USA, in 2017, has no stopping point.

    The existence of Trump is a helpful rhetorical crutch, since people can say that they are just striking out in rage at having a fascist in the White House. But that is a justification not a cause.

    Genuine, deep hatred of the past, of everything the USA has been and stood for, is the motivator.

    This is the result of several generations of indoctrination, in the government schools. The indoctrination has been spectacularly successful.

    Absolutely everything that occurred in the American past is necessarily, in this view, tainted and corrupt, valueless and worthy only of elimination. For example, most of the Founders were slave-owners. All depictions and references to them must be destroyed. George Washington, a slave owner, was no better than a Nazi. All institutions and documents associated with slave-owners, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, are no better than Nazi documents. All of them must be destroyed.

    Christian churches have traditionally been associated with condemning homosexuality as sin, or fighting against Islam. These religious buildings and their images must also be destroyed, by this logic.

    Buildings traditionally associated with male privilege, or capitalism, for example old office buildings with traditional lobby spaces, or clubs that were once restricted to men, are tainted. These also have to be destroyed.

    At a certain point public monuments will be attacked if they are old or have figurative statues simply because everything from the past falls short of the ideal politically correct standard and is therefore evil.

    If you watch the video of the crowd tearing down the Confederate soldier statue, they are not engaged in any kind of rational political act. They are in a frenzy. They are motivated by hate, and they are literally angrily kicking and punching an inert mass of crumpled metal.

    Mobs, once they taste the pleasure of mass violent action and ritual destruction, will want more of it. The conduct will not stop, but will escalate. It is a process that can get out of control.

    The psychological compulsion to engage in this behavior, and the feeling of group solidarity which comes with the activity, the chanting, the sense of triumph in destroying something that is valued by people the attackers hate, is intoxicating.

    Conventional politicians on the Left will find it hard to find a principled way to condemn the behavior, and will say they understand the impulse but condemn the excess.

    Conventional politicians on the Right will apologize for racism and oppression in the past, but insist on law and order.

    Neither will engage with the revolutionary and nihilistic impulses which underlie this behavior, or the indoctrination which made it possible.

    Expect to see this behavior continue, ratchet up, break out in many places.

    Expect high levels of serious vandalism and arson directed at the types of monuments and buildings I mentioned.

    As usual with such predictions, I hope I am wrong.

    Let’s see how it looks over the next few months.

    UPDATE:

    TThat didn’t take long!

    In Chicago today: Local pastor calls on Emanuel to change names of 2 Chicago parks.

    Bishop James Dukes sent a letter to Mayor Emanuel and the Chicago Park District on Monday asking the City of Chicago to rename Washington and Jackson Parks which commemorate former presidents George Washington and Andrew Jackson, key historical figures and known slave owners.

    The article notes: “On the topic of removing the statute of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, the president said, ‘I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?'”

    President Trump is a pretty smart cookie!

    But it didn’t even take a week.

    According to the article, this pastor “is meeting with a city official soon to discuss the process for changing the names.”

    We have a whole damn state named after Washington!

    That has to change.

    And Washington’s head has to be dynamited off of Mount Rushmore.

    And the money? Washington’s face is on the money! That has to change!

    And all those statues! Take ’em down!

    That will help to bring about healing.

    Stand by.

    UPDATE 2:

    Executive director and general counsel of the Congressional Black Caucus calls for statues of George Washington to “come down”.

    Posted in Culture, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Politics, Predictions, USA | 26 Comments »

    The Pause

    Posted by Jonathan on 26th July 2017 (All posts by )

    Since Trump was elected it seems that anyone I’m speaking with who wants to bring politics into a conversation, and who doesn’t know me well, and who (I’m guessing) doesn’t like Trump, will make a remark about “these days” or “the situation” or something along those lines, and expect to continue (or not) the conversation in a political direction based on my response. At least that’s how it seems to me in my purplish part of the country. I don’t react when this happens. There may be a brief pause in the conversation. We continue with our nonpolitical topic or move on to another one.

    I’d bet that many of the readers of this blog have had similar experiences. My question is whether this type of experience is the inverse of what politically left-of-center people experienced when Obama was president. Is it?

    Discuss.

    Posted in Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Leftism, Obama, Politics, Society, Trump | 11 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Sleeping with the Enemy

    Posted by David Foster on 12th July 2017 (All posts by )

    Why has the western world shown such loss of will in defending itself from radical Islamic terrorism? Why, indeed, do substantial numbers of people–particularly those who view themselves as intellectuals–endlessly make excuses for belief systems and terrorist movements whose values are completely at odds with their own stated values–and even romanticize these systems and their followers? I think some clues can be found in a forgotten novel by Arthur Koestler.

    The Age of Longing (published in 1950) is set in Paris, “sometime in the 1950s,” in a world in which France–indeed all of western Europe–is facing the very real possibility of a Soviet invasion. Hydie Anderson, the protagonist, is a young American woman living in Paris with her father, a military attache. Hydie was a devout Catholic during her teens, but has lost her faith. She was briefly married, and has had several relationships with men, but in none of them has she found either physical or emotional satisfaction…she describes her life with a phrase from T S Eliot: “frigid purgatorial fires,” and she longs for a sense of connection:

    Hydie sipped at her glass. Here was another man living in his own portable glass cage. Most people she knew did. Each one inside a kind of invisible telephone box. They did not talk to you directly but through a wire. Their voices came through distorted and mostly they talked to the wrong number, even when they lay in bed with you. And yet her craving to smash the glass between the cages had come back again. If cafes were the home of those who had lost their country, bed was the sanctuary of those who had lost their faith.

    Through her friend Julien DeLattre, Hydie is introduced to a number of Paris intellectuals and and East European emigres. Members of the former group are mostly in denial about the danger of a Soviet attack…many of them have indeed convinced themselves that Communist rule wouldn’t be all that bad. For example, there’s Professor Pontieux (modeled on Sartre)…”He did not believe that the Commonwealth of Freedomloving People had solved all its problems and become an earthly paradise. But it was equally undeniable that it was an expression of History’s groping progress towards a new form of society, when it followed that those who opposed this progres were siding with the forces of reaction and preparing the way for conflict and war–the worst crime against Humanity.” Vardi, another intellectual, says that if he had to choose between the (American) juke box on one hand, and Pravda on another, he isn’t sure which he would pick.

    Madame Pontieux, modeled on Simone de Bouvoir (with whom Koestler had a brief affair) is less ambiguous about her choice among the alternatives. “You cannot enter a cafe or a restaurant without finding it full of Americans who behave as if the place belonged to them,” she complains to an American official. When the Russian emigre Leontiev suggests that France would not survive without American military support, pointing out that “nature abhors a vacuum,” she turns on him:

    “I am surprised at your moderation, Citizen Leontiev,” Madame Pontieux said sarcastically. “I thought you would tell us that without this young man’s protection the Commonwealth army would at once march to the Atlantic shore.”

    “It would,” said Leontiev. “I believed that everyone knew that.”

    “I refuse to believe it,” responds Madame Pontieux. “But if choose one must I would a hundred times rather dance to the music of a Balalaika than a juke box.”

    (The French intellectuals Koestler knew must have really hated juke boxes!)

    Julien is romantically interested in Hydie, but she is not attracted to him, despite the fact that he seems to have much to recommend him–a hero of the French Resistance, wounded in action, and a successful poet. On one occasion, she tells him that she could never sleep with him because they are too similar–“it would be like incest”..on another occasion, though, she tells him that “what I most dislike about you is your attitude of arrogant broken-heartedness.” Parallel to Hydie’s loss of religious faith is Julien’s loss of his secular faith in the creation of a new society. He does not now believe in utopia, or any approximation to same, but he does believe in the need to face reality, however unpleasant it may be. Hydie argues that the Leftists of their acquaintance may be silly, but at least they believe in something:

    “Perhaps they believe in a mirage–but isn’t it better to believe in a mirage than to believe in nothing?”

    Julien looked at her coldly, almost with contempt:

    “Definitely not. Mirages lead people astray. That’s why there are so many skeletons in the desert. Read more history. Its caravan-routes are strewn with the skeletons of people who were thirsting for faith–and their faith made them drink salt water and eat the sand, believing it was the Lord’s Supper.”

    At a diplomatic affair, Hydie meets Fedya, a committed Communist who works for the Soviet Embassy. She is powerfully attracted to him: things get physical very quickly and, from Hydie’s point of view, very satisfactorily. (Fedya is one of Koestler’s best-developed characters. His boyhood in Baku is vividly sketched, and Koestler–himself a former Communist–does a good job in showing how a political faith can become core to an individual’s whole personality.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Christianity, Civil Liberties, Deep Thoughts, France, Political Philosophy, Terrorism | 12 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: The Calendar is Not Omnipotent

    Posted by David Foster on 7th July 2017 (All posts by )

    Here’s a video of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser reacting to a Muslim Brotherhood demand that women be required to wear head coverings.  Nasser and his listeners are quite amused that anyone would propose such an idea in the modern year of 1958.  The video reminded me of this post from March 2014…

    Barack Obama and John Kerry have been ceaselessly lecturing Vlad Putin to the effect that: grabbing territory from other countries just isn’t the sort of thing one does in this twenty-first century, old boy.

    For example, here’s Obama: “…because you’re bigger and stronger taking a piece of the country – that is not how international law and international norms are observed in the 21st century.”

    And John Kerry:  “It’s really 19th century behavior in the twenty-first century. You just don’t invade another country on phony pretexts in order to assert your interests.”

    The idea that the mere passage of time has some automatic magical effect on national behavior…on human behavior…is simplistic, and more than a little odd.  I don’t know how much history Obama and Kerry actually studied during their college years, but 100 years ago..in early 1914…there were many, many people convinced that a major war could not happen…because we were now in the twentieth century, with international trade and with railroads and steamships and telegraph networks and electric lights and all. And just 25 years after that, quite a few people refused to believe that concentration camps devoted to systematic murder could exist in the advanced mid-20th century, in the heart of Europe.

    Especially simplistic is the idea that, because there had been no military territory-grabs by first-rank powers for a long time, that the era of such territory-grabs was over. George Eliot neatly disposed of this idea many years ago, in a passage in her novel Silas Marner:

    The sense of security more frequently springs from habit than from conviction, and for this reason it often subsists after such a change in the conditions as might have been expected to suggest alarm. The lapse of time during which a given event has not happened is, in this logic of habit, constantly alleged as a reason why the event should never happen, even when the lapse of time is precisely the added condition which makes the event imminent.

    Or, as Mark Steyn put it much more recently:

    ‘Stability’ is a surface illusion, like a frozen river: underneath, the currents are moving, and to the casual observer the ice looks equally ‘stable’ whether there’s a foot of it or just two inches. There is no status quo in world affairs: ‘stability’ is a fancy term to dignify laziness and complacency as sophistication.

    Obama also frequently refers to the Cold War, and argues that it is in the past. But the pursuit of force-based territorial gain by nations long predates the Cold War, and it has not always had much to do with economic rationality. The medieval baron with designs on his neighbor’s land didn’t necessarily care about improving his own standard of living, let alone that of his peasants–what he was after, in many cases, was mainly the ego charge of being top dog.

    Human nature was not repealed by the existence of steam engines and electricity in 1914…nor even by the broad Western acceptance of Christianity in that year…nor is it repealed in 2014 by computers and the Internet or by sermons about “multiculturalism” and bumper stickers calling for “coexistence.”

    American Digest just linked a very interesting analysis of the famous “long telegram” sent by George Kennan in 1947: George Kennan, Vladimir Putin, and the Appetites of Men. In this document, Kennan argued that Soviet behavior must be understood not only through the prism of Communist ideology, but also in terms of the desire of leaders to establish and maintain personal power.

    Regarding the current Russian/Crimean situation, the author of the linked article (Tod Worner) says:

    In the current crisis, many will quibble about the historical, geopolitical complexities surrounding the relationship between Russia, Ukraine and Crimea. They will debate whether Crimea’s former inclusion in the Russian Empire or Crimea’s restive Russian population justifies secession especially with a strong Russian hand involved. Papers will be written. Conferences will be convened. Experts will be consulted. Perhaps these are all prudent and thoughtful notions to consider and actions to undertake. Perhaps.

    But perhaps we should, like George Kennan, return to the same questions we have been asking about human nature since the beginning of time. Maybe we are, at times, overthinking things. Perhaps we would do well to step back and consider something more fundamental, something more base, something more reliable than the calculus of geopolitics and ideology…Perhaps we ignore the simple math that is often before our very eyes. May we open our eyes to the appetites of men.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, History, Humor, Leftism, Middle East, Obama, Russia, USA, War and Peace | 11 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Time Travel

    Posted by David Foster on 25th June 2017 (All posts by )

    Margaret Soltan’s husband was searching for his grandmother’s name on Google, and found her in a 1908 portrait, which is now in the National Museum at Warsaw.

    The post reminded me of a post from a couple of months ago by Bookworm, about finding a book in which  her grandmother’s friends at her finishing school in Lausanne, Switzerland, wrote her farewell letters when she graduated and moved back to Belgium in 1913:

    As befitted a young woman of her class back in the day before WWI began, my grandmother was multilingual, so the messages in her book were in French, German, Dutch, and English.  The young ladies all included their home addresses — in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, America, Scotland, England, Wales, Romania, and Persia (Tehran).  Each inscription was written in beautiful copperplate and the girls all drew exquisite little flags reflecting each girl’s country of origin.

    Since I, unlike my grandmother (and my parents), am not multilingual, I was able to read only the inscriptions from my grandmother’s English-speaking friends.  I have no word for how charming these little missives were.  An American girl wrote about the irony that she and my grandmother hated each other at first sight, only to become close friends by the end of their time together.  An English girl wrote about the “jolly good times” they had going to concerts with “modern” music consisting of one note, played so low no one could hear it.  Another girl wrote about the disappointment of endless dinners consisting of macaroni and disappointingly watery “chocolate creme.”

    And Bookworm’s post, when I first read it, reminded me of a passage in the memoirs of British general Edward Spears, close friend of Churchill and emissary to France during the campaign of 1940. Spears had grown up in France, and in the 1960s he returned to the house he had lived in. There, he found a picnic basket filled with his grandmother’s old letters:

    The next letters I opened dropped me back two generations into a land of other people’s memories but with an occasional sharp glint as they recalled things I had heard of as a child. They were the letters of a poor sick young woman written to her absent husband whilst she was immobilised awaiting her first and only child, my mother.

    I never imagined my grandmother other than I had known her, white haired, stout, and dignified. The picture painted in these letters of a girl frantic with loneliness and longing, exasperated at the threat of a miscarriage which kept her lying on her back, begging her husband to come to her, all told in the reserved language of that day, filled me with a kind of fond protective amusement. It was so unexpected. Time, so long imprisoned in these boxes, was revealing itself in an entirely new guise, oscillating quite regardless of years from one generation to the next or back again–more, it was taking me, an elderly man in the 1960s, and leading me back to the year 1864, there to watch over, with infinite tenderness, a young woman I had never known, my grandmother as a young wife…

    Another time-travel experience, albeit of a less directly personal nature than the above three ventures back in time, can be found in this set of photographs: 1910–The Summer of our Content.

    See also the comments for the original post of the above.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, History, Human Behavior | 5 Comments »

    Seth Barrett Tillman: Two Election Stories: New Jersey, November 7, 2016 & Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, 2013

    Posted by Jonathan on 5th June 2017 (All posts by )

    Please forward [this] to people in Lakewood [New Jersey]. I gave [Rabbi] Yeruchum Olshin [May he live for many good days, Amen], [a] ride this morning and [he] said [that] I [may quote him – that is, Rabbi Olshin] in his name to vote for [candidate] Trump because [the authoritative commentary on Jewish law and practice explains] [King] David [had] 2 [failings] and [David] didn’t lose [his] kingdom, but [King] Saul [had] only one [failing] and lost [his] kingdom. Why? [The] answer is [because] David’s [failures] were in his private life but Saul[’s] [failure] was in [relation to] the [kingship] … [albeit it is all distinguishable] [Rabbi Olshin] said Trump is [low] … in his private life but Hillary [is] corrupt in public office. [quoting Rabbi Aaron of blessed memory]… Forward to everybody!!

    Read the whole thing.

    Posted in Anglosphere, Britain, Deep Thoughts, Elections, Trump | Comments Off on Seth Barrett Tillman: Two Election Stories: New Jersey, November 7, 2016 & Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, 2013

    Seth Barrett Tillman: Responding to Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain in The Guardian…

    Posted by Jonathan on 24th May 2017 (All posts by )

    (Read the entire exchange here.)

    Posted in Britain, Civil Society, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Rhetoric, Terrorism | 21 Comments »

    Oxytocin and Conformity – Public and Private

    Posted by David Foster on 29th April 2017 (All posts by )

    An interesting article by Robert Sapolsky distinguishes between public conformity, in which subjects change their opinions to be more agreeable to the crowd, and private conformity, where the individual actually adopts the crowd’s opinion as his own.

    Sapolsky describes a classic experiment for studying conformity, in which solitary subjects are first asked something with an obvious answer such as, “Here’s a line.  Which of these three other lines is it closest to in length?”  Then a subject is asked the question which amid a group of other “participants,” actually confederates of the researcher who have been instructed to give a unanimously wrong answer. When these false answers were given first, the real study subjects would agree with that answer up to three-quarters of the time.

    Neuroscience research suggests that “the discovery that everyone disagrees with you turns out to typically activate the amygdala and the insular cortex, brain regions associated with anxiety, disgust, and unease.”

    In another experiment, which involved watching a documentary and then being quizzed about it, subjects were divided into two groups.  One group was administered oxytocin, the so-called ‘cuddling hormone,’ which is said to promote bonding and affiliation in couples and also among social groups.  The other experimental group got a placebo.  Among the placebo group, about 2/3 conformed to the crowd opinion…but of these, about half reverted to the correct answer when they were on their own again.  Among those who got oxytocin, there was a 15% increase in the rate of public conforming, but no increase in the rate of private conforming.

    I’m not sure how definitive a 15% increase really is given the sample size of only 92 subjects, but it is consistent with what has been frequently claimed about the effects of oxytocin.  It is slightly comforting (again, to the extent that these results are validate-able)  that the increase in public conformity does not drive a corresponding increase in private conformity.  Only slightly comforting, though–the mob can still burn you at the stake for witchcraft even though most of its members privately believe that there is no such thing.)

    This is obviously connected to the idea of the preference cascade.  Failure to understand this concept is surely one reason why Hillary Clinton and her minions were so taken aback by Donald Trump’s presidential victory.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism | 8 Comments »

    Freedom and the American Character

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd April 2017 (All posts by )

    I was thinking, for some reason, about the old Cole Porter song Don’t Fence Me In.  It’s not all that good of a song, IMO–but it does express a chafing at restriction that most people would once have agreed was a core aspect of the American character.

    Now, however, I’m not so sure.  Seems to me a lot of people–especially but not only on college campuses–are asking to be fenced in, and are looking at hobbles not negatively but with admiration.

    Questions for discussion:

    –Has individual freedom indeed become a less-important value to Americans (in general) over recent decades?

    –If so, what are the drivers of this change?…and what are the implications?

    –Was Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor right about human nature?

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Music, USA | 30 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 28th March 2017 (All posts by )

    Some people find it very upsetting that President Trump likes to put ketchup on steak.  (Not something I’d do, but then I never put ketchup on french fries, either…)  Matthew Continetti says:  It is hard to read stories like these without coming to the conclusion that so much of our elite’s abhorrence of Trump is a matter of aesthetics.

    There’s considerable truth in that point, I think.  Lead and Gold quotes GK Chesterton:  The modern world will not distinguish between matters of opinion and matters of principle and it ends up treating them all as matters of taste.  Follow the link to read what L&G has to say about the worship of ‘taste’, using the Bloomsbury group as an example.

    How Communism became the disease it tried to cure:

    Contrary to the socialist promises of making a new man out of the rubble of the old order, as one new stone after another was put into place and the socialist economy was constructed, into the cracks between the blocks sprouted once again the universals of human nature: the motives and psychology of self-interested behavior, the search for profitable avenues and opportunities to improve one’s own life and that of one’s family and friends, through the attempt to gain control over and forms of personal use of the “socialized” scarce resources and commodities within the networks and interconnections of the Soviet bureaucracy.

    Stuart Schneiderman writes about nationalism vs internationalism, and Don Sensing has some thoughts on tribalism.  Both are well worth reading.

    Why college graduates still can’t think:

    Traditionally, the “critical” part of the term “critical thinking” has referred not to the act of criticizing, or finding fault, but rather to the ability to be objective. “Critical,” in this context, means “open-minded,” seeking out, evaluating and weighing all the available evidence. It means being “analytical,” breaking an issue down into its component parts and examining each in relation to the whole. Above all, it means “dispassionate,” recognizing when and how emotions influence judgment and having the mental discipline to distinguish between subjective feelings and objective reason—then prioritizing the latter over the former…I assumed that virtually all the readers (of a post on a higher-education website) would agree with this definition of critical thinking—the definition I was taught as a student in the 1980s and which I continue to use with my own students.

    To my surprise, that turned out not to be the case. Several readers took me to task for being “cold” and “emotionless,” suggesting that my understanding of critical thinking, which I had always taken to be almost universal, was mistaken.

    Some great pictures of villages around the world.  (via Craig Newmark)

    Posted in Academia, Deep Thoughts, Leftism, Photos, Trump | 11 Comments »

    Mark Zuckerberg as Political and Social Philosopher

    Posted by David Foster on 7th March 2017 (All posts by )

    A long essay by the founder of Facebook includes this assertion:

    History is the story of how we’ve learned to come together in ever greater numbers — from tribes to cities to nations.

    To which Steve Sailer responds:

    As we all know, independence and diversity have always been the enemy of progress.

    For example, that’s why Thomas Jefferson wrote The Declaration of Dependence submitting the American colonies to the British Empire.

    Similarly, the father of history, Herodotus, wrote to celebrate the mighty Persian Empire’s reduction of the various Greek city-states to a satrapy ruled from Babylon.

    Likewise, every year Jews gather to admit that their stiff-neckedness provoked the Roman Empire into, rightfully, smashing the Temple in Jerusalem on the holy day of We-Had-It-Coming.

    And, of course, who can forget Shakespeare’s plays, such as Philip II and Admiral-Duke of Medina Sidonia, lauding the Spanish Armada for conquering the impudent English and restoring to Canterbury the One True Faith?

    Similarly, Oswald Mosley’s prime ministership (1940-1980) of das englische Reich is justly admired for subordinating England’s traditional piratical turbulence to the greater good of Europe.

    Likewise, who can not look at the 49 nations currently united by their adherence to the universalist faith of Islam and not see that submission is the road to peace, prosperity, and progress? If only unity had prevailed at Tours in 732 instead of divisiveness. May that great historical wrong be swiftly rectified in the decades to come!

    (links via Isegoria)

    Zuckerberg’s assertion about history being about “coming together in ever larger numbers”…with the implication that this is inherently in a good thing…is quite reminiscent of the views of Edward Porter Alexander, a Confederate general and later a railroad president…as excerpted in my post What are the limits of the Alexander analysis?

    Following his initial snarkiness, Steve Sailer goes on to point out that “consolidation is some times a good thing, and other times independence or decentralization is a better thing. Getting the scale of control right all depends upon the circumstances. It’s usually a very interesting and complicated question that is the central issue of high statesmanship.”

    Thoughts?

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, History, Organizational Analysis, Political Philosophy, Tech | 33 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 4th March 2017 (All posts by )

    Simulating a microprocessor with techniques similar to those used in neuroscience raises some cautionary thoughts about conclusions being drawn in the later work.

    Don Sensing links his 2014 post:  America is adopting the Middle East model, and he’s not talking about Islam but rather about the   fact that “At an increasing pace, politics in the West, especially in America, is the surest way to wealth, a 180-out from the West’s history”…but consistent with the way things have worked for millennia in the Middle East.

    Anthony Esolen:  We are a people now illiterate in a way that is unprecedented for the human race. We can decipher linguistic signs on a page, but we have no songs and immemorial stories in our hearts.

    Wendy McElroy on “social justice warriors” and the persecution of heretics.

    Despite about all the automation innovations and the concerns about robots taking all the jobs, manufacturing productivity may really not be showing much in the way of an upward trend.

    Management and meaningful work, studied via Legos

    Posted in Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Leftism, Management, Medicine, Middle East, Science, Tech | 1 Comment »

    The Crazy Years 21st Century Style

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 27th February 2017 (All posts by )

    I honestly thought that once the election was done and Donald Trump duly sworn into the highest office in the land that those whose favored candidate lost would calm the heck down. You know, sort of the way that those of us whose chosen candidate lost in 2012… you know, disappointed but sporting about it. We went home, sniffled a little as we communed via the internet with equally disappointed friends, assumed the fetal position and turned the electric blanket onto “high” and got over it in a week or so. That’s the way the constitutionally-mandated cookie crumbles. The day after the election, I assumed that Hillary and Bernie voters would have had the maturity to do the same; morn a little, snivel a little, write editorials in the national media-of-record rationalizing their unfortunate reversals, perhaps throwing a little blame against whomever, and then pull themselves together and put as good a face on it as they could muster, promising to do better in 2020.

    Nope; the march of the disappointed pussy-hatters the very next day, riots and protests in deep blue cities, the absolute frothing at the mouth Trump-hate at the Oscars and on the national news broadcasts, the impassioned print editorials, the ranting, raving, stompy-footing, the mass-defriending and insanely hateful rants on Facebook: Trump is a Nazi-fascist-anti-Semitic-racist-who-pulls-tags-off-mattresses and trips old ladies hobbling along on canes, and so is everyone who voted for him. Yes, over the last few years, we have kind of gotten the idea that the Ruling Class; the bi-coastal comfortable and well-connected (including the intelligentsia, the national media and bureaucracy) were contemptuous of the ordinary working and middle class residents of Flyoverlandia. Now we know for a certainty that those who form the coalition of the Ruling Class and many who aspire to be a member of that Class in good standing despise us. They despise us with a passion and fury that renders them incoherent, and unashamed of displaying that hatred.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Civil Society, Conservatism, Deep Thoughts, Leftism, Politics, Trump | 18 Comments »

    Robots and Jobs – the Bet

    Posted by David Foster on 23rd February 2017 (All posts by )

    Keith Ablow, a Fox News analyst, asked Should Trump stop robots from stealing jobs?

    Economist Don Boudreaux responded:

    It’s true that the pace of introducing new labor-saving techniques has magnificently quickened in the past two hundred years.  This fast pace continues today.  Yet still we encounter no evidence that labor-saving techniques permanently increase unemployment.

    You’ll reply “This time is different!”  Perhaps, but I doubt it.  And I’m so confident in my prediction that I’ll put $10,000 of my own my money where my mouth is.

    Terms of the wager are at the Boudreaux link. I’m not sure if the bet has been accepted or not.

    Meanwhile, here is Bill Gates, suggesting that robots should be taxed.  Left undefined, at least in this interview, is a question of Exactly What is a Robot?  Is a CNC machine tool a robot?  I’d say it absolutely is, as was the case with earlier numerically-controlled machine tools that became pretty common in the 1970s and 1980s.  How about an automated teller machine in a bank?  And what about “robots” that have no direct physical incarnation but are purely software, such as the office productivity software that accounted for a huge portion of Microsoft’s success?  It was largely Microsoft Word and similar software that made secretaries an endangered species in most organizations.  (Can you imaging the lobbying, litigation, and regulatory struggles that would surround this definitional issue if politicians were to take Bill’s proposal seriously?)

    The proposal also ignores that fact that the United States is not the entire world–taxing robots here would harm our competitiveness vis-a-vis those countries pursuing no such policy.  (Which would clearly include China.)  The only way to make a US-only anti-robot policy ‘work’ would be to establish very high tariff barriers.

    See also my posts Attack of the Job-Killing Robots and Attack of the Job-Killing Robots Part 2.   I hope to soon complete Part 3 of the series, which will focus on automation technologies and their impact in the post-WWII era.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Tech | 19 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 10th February 2017 (All posts by )

    How the 16th century invented social media

    Virginia Postrel thinks that now is the time for big-box stores to embrace the 19th century

    Is it possible to make American mate again?

    Related to the above:  mapping the geographical patterns of romantic anxiety and avoidance

    Maybe also related:  sex doesn’t sell anymore, activism does

    PC oppression and why Trump won

    Theory and practice: an interesting Assistant Village Idiot post from 2010

    Learning about effective selling from a surfer dude

    Here’s a guy who says: I help create the automated technologies that are taking jobs…and I feel guilty about it

    After discussing his concerns about automation-driven job losses, he goes on to say “I feel even worse when I hear misleading statements about the source of the problem. Blaming China and NAFTA is a convenient deflection, but denial will only make the wrenching employment dislocation for millions all the more painful.”

    I’ve seen this assertion–“offshoring doesn’t matter because Robots”–and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.  It should be obvious that both factors play a role; there’s no need for a single-variable explanation.  (Actually, offshoring-driven job losses and automation-driven job losses are somewhat less than additive in their effect, since automation generally makes US-based production more relatively attractive.)

    Here’s an argument that the next big blue-collar job is coding.

    What if we regarded code not as a high-stakes, sexy affair, but the equivalent of skilled work at a Chrysler plant? Among other things, it would change training for programming jobs—and who gets encouraged to pursue them. As my friend Anil Dash, a technology thinker and entrepreneur, notes, teachers and businesses would spend less time urging kids to do expensive four-year computer-­science degrees and instead introduce more code at the vocational level in high school….Across the country, people are seizing this opportunity, particularly in states hit hardest by deindustrialization. In Kentucky, mining veteran Rusty Justice decided that code could replace coal. He cofounded Bit Source, a code shop that builds its workforce by retraining coal miners as programmers. Enthusiasm is sky high: Justice got 950 applications for his first 11 positions. Miners, it turns out, are accustomed to deep focus, team play, and working with complex engineering tech. “Coal miners are really technology workers who get dirty,” Justice says.

    I’m reminded of two things that Peter Drucker said in his 1969 book The Age of Discontinuity.  In attacking what he called ‘the diploma curtain’, he wrote “By denying opportunity to those without higher education, we are denying access to contribution and performance to a large number of people of superior ability, intelligence, and capacity to achieve.”

    But also, Drucker wrote, in his discussion of the Knowledge Economy:

    The knowledge worker of today…is not the successor to the ‘free professional’ of 1750 or 1900.  He is the successor to the employee of yesterday, the manual worker, skilled or unskilled…This hidden conflict between the knowledge workers view of himself as a ‘professional’ and the social reality in which he is the upgraded and well-paid successor to the skilled worker of yesterday, underlies the disenchantment of so many highly educated young people with the jobs available to them…They expect to be ‘intellectuals.’  And the find that they are just ‘staff.’

    Indeed, many jobs that have been thought of as ‘professional’ and ‘white collar’…programming, financial analysis, even engineering…are increasingly subject to many of the stresses traditionally associated with ‘blue collar’ jobs, such as layoffs and cyclical unemployment.  As a higher % of the corporate cost structure becomes concentrated in jobs which are not direct labor, it is almost inevitable that these jobs will be hit increasingly when financial problems make themselves felt.

    Drucker’s second point, which I think is very astute, is somewhat orthogonal to the coal-miners-becoming-coders piece, and probably deserves it own post for discussion.  Regarding the question of non-college-educated people becoming programmers (of which there has long already been a fair amount), the degree to which succeeds is to some degree coupled with the whole question of h-1b visa policy, and trade policy in general as it relates to offshoring of services.

    Posted in Business, Civil Liberties, Deep Thoughts, Education, Leftism, Marketing, Media, Tech | 11 Comments »

    Freedom, the Village, and the Internet (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 7th February 2017 (All posts by )

    (Hearing in a town this size, by John Prine and Delores Keane, reminded me of this 2013 post–rerun here, with some edits and a special musical bonus added at the end.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Media, Tech | 15 Comments »

    Uncle Henry, Charlie Kellstadt, and Donald Trump

    Posted by David Foster on 24th January 2017 (All posts by )

    As President Trump has focused on persuading certain specific companies to increase their US employment (or at least to refrain from decreasing it as much as originally planned), concerns have been raised about his ability to operate above the level of the single case and to think in terms of framing general policies.  I do share this concern to a certain extent.

    But I’m also reminded of Peter Drucker’s story about two old-line merchants.

    The first of these, called “Uncle Henry” by those who knew him, was the founder and owner of a large and succesful department store. When Drucker met him, he was already in his eighties. Uncle Henry was a businessman who did things by intuition more than by formal analysis, and his own son Irving, a Harvard B-School graduate, was appalled at “the unsystematic and unscientific way the store was being run.”

    Drucker remembers his conversations with Uncle Henry. “He would tell stories constantly, always to do with a late consignment of ladies’ hats, or a shipment of mismatched umbrellas, or the notions counter. His stories would drive me up the wall. But gradually I learned to listen, at least with one ear. For surprisingly enough he always leaped to a generalization from the farrago of anecdotes and stocking sizes and color promotions in lieu of markdowns for mismatched umbrellas.”

    Drucker also knew another leading merchant, Charles Kellstadt (who had once run Sears.) Kellstadt and Drucker served together on a Department of Defense advisory board (on procurement policy), and Kellstadt told “the same kind of stories Uncle Henry had told.” Drucker says that his fellow board members “suffered greatly from his interminable and apparently pointless anecdotes.”

    On one occasion, a “whiz kid” (this was during the McNamara era) was presenting a proposal for a radically new approach to defense pricing policy. Kellstadt “began to tell a story of the bargain basement in the store in Chillicothe, Ohio, where he had held his first managerial job, and of some problem there with the cup sizes of women’s bras. he would stop every few sentences and ask the bewildered Assistant Secretary a quesion about bras, then go on. Finally, the Assistant Secretary said, “You don’t understand Mr. Kellstadt; I’m talking about concepts.” “So am I,” said Charlie, quite indignant, and went on. Ten minutes later all of us on the board realized that he had demolished the entire proposal by showing us that it was far too complex, made far too many assumptions, and contains far too many ifs, buts, and whens.” After the meeting, another board member (dean of a major engineering school) said admiringly, “Charlie, that was a virtuoso performance. but why did you have to drag in the cup sizes of the bras in your bargain basement forty years ago?” Drucker reports that Charlie was surprised by the question: “How else can I see a problem in my mind’s eye?”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Deep Thoughts, Management, Trump | 6 Comments »

    National Tantrum

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 19th January 2017 (All posts by )

    As the Deity be my witness, I have never – not even since 1968 (which I am sufficiently old enough to remember, being 14 years of age in that cursed year) – seen such a massive and public temper tantrum as that which we have been observing since November, 2015. Let it be said that I am observing all this with appalled and horrified fascination. It used to be that only certain very far-leftish intellectuals and college students were given to briefly melt down in such an over-the-top fashion – but over the last month and a bit this appears to have become the chosen reaction to their side losing an election on the part of most Hollywood A- B- and C-Listers, all the social justice warrior front, most of the establishment media, a good chunk of our public intellectuals, a good few businesses (looking at you, Kellogg) a generous selection of our Democrat Party establishment, and a representative sample of leftish freelance political freaks. (As an aside – good show; displaying your contempt toward at least half of your prospective audience/consumers/& etc is a sure winner, when it comes to the consumer market. This household will never purchase Kellogg brands again. Or go to a movie with Meryl Streep in it.)

    So – why the Cat-5 hurricane degree of hysteria, which shows not the slightest degree of diminishing? A number of reasons, I would venture; and for many of the most demonstrative “Never Our President” virtue signalers it may be a combination of several of these.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Politics, Tea Party, The Press, Trump | 21 Comments »

    Jargon, Proverbs, and Memes

    Posted by David Foster on 7th January 2017 (All posts by )

    Texan99, writing at Grim’s Hall, discusses the ‘thick fog of buzzwords’ that pervades the educational arena in this country. My comment is that buzzwords and jargon are worst in education, government, and the ‘nonprofit’ world, but increasingly are also pervading the world of business and having a malign effect therein. Many of the posts I see on LinkedIn, for example, represent attempts by people who have never had a creative idea or insight in their lives to posture a deep thinkers and business intellectuals by maximizing their use of the buzzwords du jour.

    Sarah Hoyt draws a distinction between memes and proverbs:

    Of all the ways people have come up with to avoid thinking, I like memes the most.  They are so ridiculously easy to fall into.  You see the words, you see the picture and you go “ah ah, that’s so true.” Even when on a minute’s reflection it makes no sense whatsoever…I think in a way it follows the same pattern that proverbs followed in more ancient cultures…While proverbs were ways not to have to think or short cuts around thinking, they weren’t, by themselves, pernicious…Proverbs are in a way, the encoding of societal wisdom into short cuts to lead people into ways that have worked before…Memes are similar, but you have to remove societal wisdom and put in “the commanding forces of culture and mass media”.  RTWT

    Andre Beaufre, who in 1940 was a young captain on the French General Staff (later a general, he commanded the French contingent in the Suez attack) commented on his impressions when he first breathed the refined air at the General Staff level:

    I saw very quickly that our seniors were primarily concerned with forms of drafting. Every memorandum had to be perfect, written in a concise, impersonal style, and conforming to a logical and faultless plan–but so abstract that it had to be read several times before one could find out what it was about…”I have the honour to inform you that I have decided…I envisage…I attach some importance to the fact that…” Actually no one decided more than the barest minimum, and what indeed was decided was pretty trivial.

    Entirely consistent with Beaufre’s observation was a interchange between the artists Picasso and Matisse which took place in the midst of the collapse of 1940:

    Matisse: But what about our generals, what are they doing?

    Picasso:  Our generals? They’re the masters at the Ecole des Beaux Arts!

    …ie, men possessed by the same rote formulae and absence of observation and obsessive traditionalism as the academic artists.

    The decline in clarity of writing and speaking presages nothing good.  Confucius pointed out that “If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.”

    See my earlier post When Formalism Kills and the ensuing discussion thread.

    Posted in Academia, Business, Deep Thoughts | 5 Comments »

    What are the Limits of the Alexander Analysis?

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd January 2017 (All posts by )

    Edward Porter Alexander, who was Lee’s artillery commander at Gettysburg, became a railroad president after the war. His experiences in running a major transportation system probably had something to do with the evolution of his thoughts regarding state’s rights:

    Well that (state’s rights) was the issue of the war; & as we were defeated that right was surrendered & a limit put on state sovereignty. And the South is now entirely satisfied with that result. And the reason of it is very simple. State sovereignty was doubtless a wise political instution for the condition of this vast country in the last century. But the railroad, and the steamboat & the telegraph began to transform things early in this century & have gradually made what may almost be called a new planet of it… Our political institutions have had to change… Briefly we had the right to fight, but our fight was against what might be called a Darwinian development – or an adaptation to changed & changing conditions – so we need not greatly regret defeat.

    I think a lot of the belief in unlimited globalization is implicitly driven by an extension of Alexander’s argument, with the jet plane, the container ship, and the Internet taking the place of the railroad, steamboat, and telegraph.

    How far does this extension make sense?  If the ability of locomotives could pull trains across the United States in three days meant that full sovereignty for individual states was obsolete, does the ability of jet airplanes to carry passengers and freight anywhere in the world in less than one day similarly imply that full sovereignty for nations is obsolete?

    I suspect that most people at this site will not agree with a transportation-based argument for the elimination of national sovereignty.  So, what is valid and what is invalid about Alexander’s analysis, and what are the limits for the extension of its geographical scope?  Discuss.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, History, Political Philosophy, Tech, Transportation, USA | 22 Comments »