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  • Archive for the 'Deep Thoughts' Category

    Archive Post: Evelyn Waugh And the Sword of Honor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Posted in Anglosphere, Book Notes, Britain, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Leftism | No Comments »

    Boredom

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

    Ammo Grrrll writes about her husband, a man who is never bored…”the most self-amusing human I have ever known, mostly due to an overabundance of enthusiasms and boundless curiosity about every dang thing in the world.”  She contrasts this attitude with the attitudes of those people who really can’t think of anything to do unless they need to go to work.

    Valerie Jarrett famously said of Obama:  “He’s been bored to death his whole life.”  We can’t be sure, of course, that Jarrett is here actually reflecting Obama’s true characteristics;  but we can be sure that she feels that the characteristic of being bored one’s whole life is something admirable, a sign of intellectual and maybe moral superiority.

    (I think it’s correct to say that the affectation of boredom has traditionally been associated with members of aristocracies)

    Years ago, when I visited the American Museum of the American Indian, one of the exhibits was a collection of jewelry made by former senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Cheyenne)…really fine stuff, not that I’m any judge.  I remember wondering at the time:  how many other politicians have a serious hobby or avocation such as this?  I thought then and I think now that it’s probably pretty exceptional; most of them seem to have few interests other than the pursuit of power and activities directly related to that pursuit.

    In his important memoir of growing up in Germany between the wars, Sebastian Haffner discusses a period (during the Stresemann chancellorship) when the political and economic climate in that country stabilized significantly.  Most people were a lot happier:

    The last ten years were forgotten like a bad dream. The Day of Judgment was remote again, and there was no demand for saviors or revolutionaries…There was an ample measure of freedom, peace, and order, everywhere the most well-meaning liberal-mindedness, good wages, good food and a little political boredom. everyone was cordially invited to concentrate on their personal lives, to arrange their affairs according to their own taste and to find their own paths to happiness.

    But…and I think this is a particuarly important point…a return to private life was not to everyone’s taste:

    A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddently ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk.

    and

    To be precise (the occasion demands precision, because in my opinion it provides the key to the contemporary period of history): it was not the entire generation of young Germans. Not every single individual reacted in this fashion. There were some who learned during this period, belatedly and a little clumsily, as it were, how to live. they began to enjoy their own lives, weaned themselves from the cheap intoxication of the sports of war and revolution, and started to develop their own personalities. It was at this time that, invisibly and unnoticed, the Germans divided into those who later became Nazis and those who would remain non-Nazis.

    I believe that in America today, there are a lot of people–largely, but not exclusively on the Left–whose political activity is motivated in large part by their inability to make their own lives great, beautiful and worth while.

    Discuss, if so inclined.

    Posted in Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Germany, Human Behavior, USA | 17 Comments »

    An Archive Post: Obamania & Spike Lee

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 10th April 2019 (All posts by )

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

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

    Posted in Blogging, Civil Society, Conservatism, Culture, Deep Thoughts, History, Urban Issues | 6 Comments »

    Important Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 23rd March 2019 (All posts by )

    Sarah Hoyt:  The Totalitarian Train in Rolling Down the Tracks

    If I could communicate just one thing, across the increasing divide of language and thought to the left it would be this: that warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you’re running someone down is not righteousness.  It’s just the feeling apes get when they run off another ape.

    If you’re part of a band and all of you were piling on an outsider — or an insider who was just declared an outsider and run off — you’ll also feel very connected to your band, and a feeling of being loved and belonging.  It’s not real. It’s the result of a “reward” rush of endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine that flood your body after stress and a perceived “victory.”  Oxytocin, particularly, promotes a feeling of bonding with those around you.

    Just remember, as you’re high fiving each other and believing that something that feels so good has to be good and morally “just” you could be the victim tomorrow.  Because the feelings don’t last, and that rush of “righteousness and victory” is addictive. Those who are your comrades today will be looking for someone to kick in the face tomorrow. And it really could be you.

    I’m reminded again of a passage in Goethe’s Faust. After finding that she is pregnant–which meant big trouble for a single woman in that time and place–Gretchen is talking with her awful friend Lieschen, who (still unaware of Gretchen’s situation) is licking her chops about the prospect of humiliating another girl (Barbara) who has also become pregnant outside of marriage. Here’s Gretchen, reflecting on her own past complicity in such viciousness:

    How readily I used to blame
    Some poor young soul that came to shame!
    Never found sharp enough words like pins
    To stick into other people’s sins
    Black as it seemed, I tarred it to boot
    And never black enough to suit
    Would cross myself, exclaim and preen–
    Now I myself am bared to sin!
    Yet all of it that drove me here
    God! ws so innocent, was so dear!

    Doesn’t this describe a lot of today’s SJW behavior and other political behavior?  “Never found sharp enough words like pins To stick in other people’s sins…Would cross myself, exclaim, and preen”

    Lots of exclaiming and preening going on these days..quite likely, even, in certain churches, some crossing of themselves by activists as part of the denunciation of the “others.”   The extent of the pleasure gained by many from group cruelty toward approved targets is pretty clear and is a major factor in today’s social and political toxicity.

    Posted in Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, USA | 13 Comments »

    Well, This is a Cheerful Thought

    Posted by David Foster on 13th February 2019 (All posts by )

    …not.

    Twitter’s Takeover of Politics is Just Getting Started.

    Summary at Tyler Cowen’s blog:

    But what does this new, more intense celebrity culture mean for actual outcomes? The more power and influence that individual communicators wield over public opinion, the harder it will be for a sitting president to get things done. (The best option, see above, will be to make your case and engage your adversaries on social media.) The harder it will be for an aspirant party to put forward a coherent, predictable and actionable political program.

    Finally, the issues that are easier to express on social media will become the more important ones. Technocratic dreams will fade, and fiery rhetoric and identity politics will rule the day. And if you think this is the political world we’re already living in, rest assured: It’s just barely gotten started.

    See also my post freedom, the village, and social media.

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Culture, Deep Thoughts, Politics, Tech | 20 Comments »

    Belated New Year’s Notes To Self

    Posted by Jonathan on 11th January 2019 (All posts by )

    Minimize paper, phone calls, driving, errands, quarrels, litigation, surgery.

    Maximize time with loved ones and time alone.

    Nobody’s that good.

    Most things aren’t your problem.

    Most predictions are wrong. Arguing about predictions is usually a waste of time.

    Arguing about anything, unless you are paid to do it, is usually a waste of time. An exception to this generalization is when you have a chance to make a principled case about an important issue in front of an audience with many uncommitted members.

    Most advice is worthless and should be taken with a grain or twenty of salt. However, an unexpected gentle suggestion from someone who knows you well should be treated seriously.

    Most loose ends should be left alone.

    Silence is often the best reply.

    Embrace the power of “I don’t know”.

    If it’s stupid and it works it isn’t stupid.

    Risk is everywhere and many endeavors are riskier than they initially appear to be. Complacency, especially in groups and institutions – “That’s never happened” – is a warning to watch out for icebergs.

    In business, look for patterns of events that contradict an opinion consensus.

    The period of chaos following a disruptive event can be a good time to take bold action.

    Everyone thinks his way is the only way. Try to learn from other people while keeping an open mind.
     

    Posted in Deep Thoughts | 7 Comments »

    Sneaky Robots and Robotic Bureaucrats

    Posted by David Foster on 10th January 2019 (All posts by )

    An artificial intelligence program was assigned the task of turning satellite images into street maps.  It was graded by comparing reconstructed images (reconstructed from the map) and comparing them with the original; also, by the clarity of the street map.  The grades were used by the program to continually improved its performance.

    But what the program sneakily learned to do was to encode details of the original image into the street map, in a manner invisible to humans, thereby optimizing its grade on the reconstructed image…independently of how well the street map…which was the actual desired product…actually reflected the original image.

    Humans, also, often respond to incentives in ways very different from those expected by the designers of those incentives…as many creators of sales commission plans and manufacturing bonus plans have discovered.  Bureaucracies, especially, tend to respond to the measurements placed on them in ways that are not consistent with the interests of the larger organization or society that they are supposed to be serving.  See Stupidity, Communist-Style and Capitalist-Style and The Reductio ad Absurdum of Bureaucratic Liberalism.

    Posted in Big Government, Business, Deep Thoughts, Management, Russia, Tech | 1 Comment »

    Aunt Sally versus Huck Finn

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

    A thoughtful article at The Wall Street Journal.

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

    Why So Much Anger and Resentment?

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd January 2019 (All posts by )

    2018–The Year of Living Hatefully is the title of a recent post by Roger Simon:

    Practically no one was happy. Or if they were, they didn’t show it. All they wanted to do was vilify the opposition or even their neighbors.  Democrats hating Republicans (see the new movie “Vice”) and vice versa were just the tip of a rancid iceberg. Never Trumpers hate Trumpers and the reverse, Sanders supporters hate Beto supporters, Antifa hate the bourgeoisie, the Proud Boys hate Antifa, FOX hates CNN and MSNBC hates FOX…It goes on and on. Families and friends split from each other. People shut up at work for fear they’ll be fired. Thanksgiving is a festival of hostility, Christmas (when we’re allowed to speak its name) is only slightly better.

    Roger attributes the toxic atmosphere in large part to the decline in religiousness.  I’m not convinced by that explanation; there are plenty of examples of religion as a cause of mutual hostility as well as cases where it has served as part of a cure.

    One factor in the development of the toxic atmosphere, IMO, has been the cult of “self-esteem development” carried to an excess…this seems to have resulted in a large number of people who simply cannot stand challenge or disagreement.

    Still, there are plenty are angry and hostile people who are old enough to have missed the era of self-esteem indoctrination.

    Another factor is social media,which seems to lend itself to the formation of on-line lynch mobs, as I discussed in my post freedom, the village, and social media.

    Economic fear and uncertainty surely also plays a role.  Although Roger remarks that “all this (craziness and anger) is happening in a country awash in affluence, also as almost never before, with close to full employment for all ethnic and racial groups,” it remains true that many people are highly disappointed in their failure to advance more economically, and many who feel that their children will be less-well-off than themselves.  Economic factors aside, there are also many who have been severely disappointed in their relationships and blame this disappointment in large part on society.

    A friend of mine once remarked that “if someone is bitter, then he is publicly announcing that in his own eyes he is a failure.”  I thought this was a profound comment, and by that measure, there are a lot of people in America today who consider themselves to be failures.

    But still, there are a lot of people who are doing very well economically, who seem to have excellent relationships/family lives, but who also have a lot of anger at a large number of their fellow Americans.

    Also,  I remember something Ralph Peters wrote many years ago:

    Man loves, men hate. While individual men and women can sustain feelings of love over a lifetime toward a parent or through decades toward a spouse, no significant group in human history has sustained an emotion that could honestly be characerized as love. Groups hate. And they hate well…Love is an introspective emotion, while hate is easily extroverted…We refuse to believe that the “civilized peoples of the Balkans could slaughter each other over an event that occurred over six hundred years ago. But they do. Hatred does not need a reason, only an excuse.

    This also is, I think, a profound remark.  And today’s intense focus on group identities has surely led to much more viewing of people as avatars of a group, rather than individuals–making it that much easier to despise and attack them.

    And a significant part of American academia is endlessly busy manufacturing new and revised group identities, and stirring up resentments based thereon.

    Do you agree with Roger that 2018 was the most Hateful year in recent history?  If so, what do you see as the primary causes and the potential remedies, if any?

     

    Posted in Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Society, USA | 4 Comments »

    New Year’s Eve

    Posted by David Foster on 31st December 2018 (All posts by )

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Holidays | 19 Comments »

    The Costs of Formalism and Credentialism

    Posted by David Foster on 16th December 2018 (All posts by )

    Via Grim, an interesting post at the Federalist:  Our Culture War Is Between People Who Get Results And Empty Suits With Pristine Credentials.

    Subtitle:  Donald Trump declines the authority of the cultural sectors that most assertively claim it. That’s the real conflict going on.

    I’m reminded of an interchange that took place between Picasso and Monet as the German Army advanced through France in 1940.  Monet was shocked to learn that the enemy had already reached Reims.  “But what about our generals?” asked Monet. “What are they doing.”

    Picasso’s response: “Well, there you have it, my friend. It’s the Ecole des Beaux-Arts”

    …ie, formalists who had learned one set of rules and were not interested in considering deviations from same.

    It was an astute remark, and it fits very well with the observations of Andre Beaufre, who before the invasion had been a young captain on the French General Staff. Although he had initially been thrilled to be placed among this elevated circle…

    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.

    The consequences of that approach became clear in May 1940.

    In addition to the formalism that Picasso hypothesized (and Beaufre observed) on the French General Staff, the civilian side of the French government was highly credential-oriented.  From the linked article:

    In the first days of July, 1940, the American diplomat Robert Murphy took up his duties as the chargé d’affaires at the new U.S. embassy in Vichy, France. Coming from his recent post in Paris, he was as impressed as he expected to be by the quality of the Vichy mandarinate, a highly credentialed class of sophisticated officials who were “products of the most rigorous education and curricula in any public administration in the world.”

    As the historian Robert Paxton would write, French officials were “the elite of the elite, selected through a daunting series of relentless examinations for which one prepared at expensive private schools.” In July 1940, the elite of the elite governed the remains of their broken nation, a few days after Adolf Hitler toured Paris as its conqueror. Credentials were the key to holding public office, but not the key to success at the country’s business.

    It certainly appears that the current protests and riots in France are at least in part due to long-simmering resentment at that country’s credentialed class, whose performance has not matched their pretensions.  An interesting anecdote about Macron, in the Sunday Express:

    This is a man who chastised a teenager at an official event for calling him “Manu” (the friendly diminutive of Emmanuel), saying that he should not express a view until he has acquired a degree and a job.

    and

    Macron is a graduate of the Ecole Normale d’administration (ENA), an elite Grande Ecole created by General De Gaulle in 1945 to break the upper class control of top Civil Service positions. 

    In reality, only nine percent of ENA the graduates that fill the corridors of power in industry and government have a working class background.  The top 12 or 15 students will move to L’Inspection générale des finances (IGF), and then into a career in politics, or finance, Macron’s chosen route since he became a partner with Rothschild and Cie bank.

    Americans should not feel smug about our relatively-lesser obsession with credentials.  I’ve previously quoted  something Peter Drucker wrote in 1969:

    One thing it (modern society) cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain. A main reason for the technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale. These elite institutions may do a magnificent job of education, but only their graduates normally get into the command positions. Only their faculties “matter.” This restricts and impoverishes the whole society…The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim…

    and

    It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the strength of American higher education lies in this absence of schools for leaders and schools for followers. It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the engineer with a degree from North Idaho A. and M. is an engineer and not a draftsman.

    We as a country are a lot closer to accepting Grande Ecole status for Harvard Law School and similar institutions than we were when Drucker wrote the above.  We haven’t gone as far as France and other European nations, but the trend has clearly been in the wrong direction.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, China, Deep Thoughts, Education, Europe, France, History, Society, Trump, USA | 15 Comments »

    Freedom, the Village, and Social Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Blogging, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Media, Tech | 25 Comments »

    Coupling

    Posted by David Foster on 15th November 2018 (All posts by )

    (No, this post is not about sex…sorry. Nor is it about electrical engineering, though it might at first give that impression.)

    The often-interesting General Electric blog has an article about drones, linked to a cloud-based AI platform, which are used to inspect power lines and detect incipient problems–for example, vegetation which is threatening to encroach on the lines and short them out, or a transformer with a tendency to overheat.  The article mentions a 2003 event in which an encounter between an overgrown tree branch and a sagging power line resulted in a wide-area blackout that affected 50 million people.

    The inspection drone sounds like a very useful and productivity-improving tool: obviously, inspecting thousands of miles of power lines is nontrivial job. But the deeper issue, IMO, is the fact that one problem in one place can propagate over such a wide area and affect such a vast number of people.  Power system designers and the people who operate these systems are certainly aware of the need to minimize fault propagation:  circuit breakers and fuses, network analysis tools,  and the technologies of protective relaying were developed, by GE among others, precisely for reasons of fault localization.  But experience shows that large-scale fault propagation still sometimes does take place.

    This problem is not limited to electrical systems.  The mention of the tree-branch-caused 2003 blackout reminded me of a passage from the historian Hendrik Willem Van Loon:

    Unfortunately in the year 1914 the whole world was one large international workshop. A strike in the Argentine was apt to cause suffering in Berlin. A raise in the price of certain raw materials in London might spell disaster to tens of thousands of long-suffering Chinese coolies who had never even heard of the existence of the big city on the Thames. The invention of some obscure Privat-Dozent in a third-rate German university would often force dozens of Chilean banks to close their doors, while bad management on the part of an old commercial house in Gothenburg might deprive hundreds of little boys and girls in Australia of a chance to go to college.

    This probably overstates the interconnectedness of the global economy as it existed in 1914, but would fit our present-day global economy very well.  (The author was talking about the origins of WWI, which he blamed largely on economic interconnectedness…not correct, IMO, but the war was largely caused, or at least reached the scale that it did, because of another type of interconnectedness…in the shape of alliances.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Business, Capitalism, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Trump, War and Peace | 18 Comments »

    Nicely Put

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

    Bill Reader, at Sarah Hoyt’s blog, speaking of American democracy:

    It is also remarkable in how undramatic it was in its conception, admitting the probability that people with some flawed ideas are not flawed in all ideas—that extreme measures to silence a person because of disagreement, even totally valid disagreement over things that are an existential threat to the nation, would throw many babies out with the bathwater and render the country draconian and uncomfortable in the meanwhile.

    A very good point–someone having bad ideas, or at least ideas that we think are bad, does not mean that he doesn’t also have good ideas.

    One thing that I have noticed about “Progressives” is that their categorization engines tend to be over-aggressive:  if someone has any of the opinions/beliefs in a particular list, then it is assumed that he/she also has all other beliefs in that list.  For example, IIRC, I’ve seen commenters assail our friend Bookworm for being an Evangelical Christian, whereas actually, she is Jewish. They simply cannot grasp that there might be a Trump-supporting human who is in material ways unlike their mental model of Trump supporters (uneducated, angry, anti-sex, highly-religious Christian, etc).

    The quoted passage is from a very interesting essay that is worth reading in full.

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Trump, USA | 9 Comments »

    Humor…Machine and Human

    Posted by David Foster on 23rd September 2018 (All posts by )

    There have been some articles lately, in Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal for example, concerning efforts to give Artificial Intelligence systems something resembling a simulated sense of humor.

    Interesting research, perhaps, but at this juncture I’m less concerned above providing a sense of humor for AI systems than maintaining a sense of humor for human beings.  Several professional comedians have commented about the increasing difficulty of doing comedy in an environment of hysterical political correctness.  But even more important is the degree to which fear of denunciation and mobbing seems to be affecting personal life and workplace behavior.

    Effective organizations, at least in this country, have tended to involve a certain level of easy interaction–including kidding around–among people.  What happens when we lose this?

    I suspect that the productivity impact, although hard to measure directly, will be quite significant.  As will the impact on the happiness and mental health of individual humans.

    Posted in Business, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Management | 9 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 »

    Seth Barrett Tillman: My Post on CONLAWPROF: On Elected Judges and Elected Prosecutors

    Posted by Jonathan on 26th August 2018 (All posts by )

    It strikes me that the complaint against judicial elections (as voiced on this listserv) is rooted in the absence of life tenure — not elections per se. You could have elections filling judicial vacancies — but with the candidates’ receiving life tenure. And you could have appointments by political authorities to fixed and limited judicial terms — with the possibility of reappointment. The threat to the rule of law (such as it is), lies with the prospective candidate for reelection/reappointment to judicial office biasing his/her decision for self-interested reasons. But that conflict of interest will appear whenever you have terms of limited duration with the possibility of reelection/reappointment. It is not elections per se that create the conflict.

    This is an excellent point.

    Read Seth’s post in full.

    Posted in Academia, Deep Thoughts, Elections, Law, Politics, Tradeoffs | 3 Comments »

    The Age of Magical Thinking

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

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

    Part One: Aristocracy and Its Discontents

    Part Two: In the Shadow of the Cathedral

    Part Three: Triumph of the Frog God

    Part Four: What Moves in Darkness

    Your thoughts?

    Posted in Blogging, Civil Society, Conservatism, Deep Thoughts, Diversions, Human Behavior, Leftism, Miscellaneous | 10 Comments »

    On Fire

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 29th July 2018 (All posts by )

    My childhood and growing-up years were haunted by fire – a thing which I have been reminded about, on reading the horrific accounts of the fast-moving fire that swept a resort town on the eastern shore of Greece’s Attic Peninsula earlier this week, and on reading about the massive Carr Fire just now threatening whole tracts of northern California. I grew up in Southern California, living there until I enlisted after college, went away and never really returned for more than a couple of weeks. (Less a single year to the day at Mather AFB in 1981-82.) My parents loved living in the hills, preferably at the end of a dirt road; if not out of sight of a neighbor’s fireplace sending up a little plume of smoke – then on at least half an acre and that far distant from their rooftop. Dad was a research biologist. He gave the most wonderful nature walks imaginable, and would have been – as he once confessed, being happy as a desert rat, living in a hut in the Mojave. This meant that we were usually living in, or within sight of California chaparral-covered hills – hills which nature has designed expressly for the purposes of burning over, every twenty or thirty years.

    There is no escaping that unadorned fact. Fire governs the wilderness. Certain of the native plant seeds do not even properly germinate until heated to so-many degrees. The plants themselves are resinous and burn readily, when the hot wind desert wind blows. This I knew, early on. The standing old-growth forests, and even the newer pine-woods other parts of California and the west – they are governed, bound, ruthlessly maintained by cycles of naturally-occurring fire and renewal. Fire thins the new seedlings, eliminates disease-weakened trees, clears away the mast and muddle – the broom that ruthlessly sweeps away, and renews. This my father taught us. A lesson which certain environmental groups seem to refuse, with the energy of a small child refusing a spoonful of delicious creamed spinach. No! Don’t cut down those pine-bark-infested pine trees! No, don’t clear-cut that brush! It’s icky interference with nature! And don’t do controlled burns, which endanger the spotted lizard-owl something! So the burnable load increases, increases and increases again, and when it finally all goes up, it burns so hot that the earth turns clean and barren, like a kiln transforming clay into pottery. Nature deferred will extract her penalty. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Environment, Europe | 21 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 19th June 2018 (All posts by )

    Assistant Village Idiot:

    The Cause of the Week is never reported accurately. It is chosen for emotional elements which suspend rational thought.

    It’s literally true!

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Media, Politics, Quotations, Rhetoric | 1 Comment »

    The Current Range of Derangement

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

    I freely confess to having initially thought that when Donald Trump threw his hat into the political ring and began campaigning for election to the highest office in our fair land – it was a colossal joke and not one in particularly good taste. But I was never an adamant never-Trumper, and eventually came to think that hey – a wheeler-dealer Noo Yawk property developer (who after all HAD run a good-sized business enterprise for years) couldn’t possibly stuff up the job any more disastrously than He Who Dances With Teleprompters and his merry band of faculty lounge theorizers, career bureaucrats and second-gen beneficiaries of elite parental, fraternal or marital connections. In any case – I’d vote for practically anyone than Her Inevitableness the Dowager Empress of Chappaqua, even if I had to pin my nostrils shut with C-clamp. So – what the hell. Reader, I voted for him. I have to admit that when it sends rabid lefty celebs like Robert De Niro into a spittle-flecked rant on live television, I am tempted to rub my hands together and cackle with evil glee like Mr. Burns in the Simpsons, watching them come unglued with their hate for flyover country and those denizens of it which also voted for him. A man is known in a large part by the character and quantity of his enemies; Trumps’ are as numerous and as varied as any collection of grotesqueries in a Hieronymus Bosch painting.

    So I started this post as yet another meditation on how ever-flipping-out-of-their minds the current iteration of Trump-haters are … and then the meeting in Singapore happened, and actually promises … maybe, if all goes well, a resolution to a war which started just before I was born, in a country to which my father was stationed as an Army draftee when I was born, in which I served for a year (three and a half decades later) and in which my daughter might very well have drawn duty in her turn. The Korean War – bloody and vicious, as we are reminded through M*A*S*H reruns – ended in an armistice and a heavily-armed border which slices the Korean peninsula into halves. Not anywhere equal halves, other than geographical.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Conservatism, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, History, International Affairs, Korea, Obama, Politics, Trump, War and Peace | 27 Comments »

    In the Presence of Mine Enemies

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 27th May 2018 (All posts by )

    This week, I happened on a movie – Woman in Gold from a couple of years back. The movie starred Helen Mirren, who vanished so utterly into the part of an elderly Viennese Jewish refugee, Maria Altmann, that there was no trace of Helen Mirren visible – the way that good acting should be, but rarely is. Briefly, the movie concerned Maria Altmann’s epic legal quest to have a famous and insanely valuable portrait of her Aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer painted in by Gustav Klimt in the early years of the twentieth century – a painting which had been looted by the Nazis – returned to her. The painting gravitated into the possession of the Austrian government, from which it was eventually pried by dint of persistent and effective legal action. A decent movie overall, BTW. But what struck me in watching it was how much the mannerisms, the accent, the character of Maria Altmann reminded me of a certain family friend, a woman of the same vintage, and similar background; Viennese, of a prosperous family who also ran afoul of the Nazis, and finished up living in Southern California. I wonder if Lainie and Maria Altmann knew each other, back in the day? Lainie lived in the right part of town and had the kind of income and background to have patronized Maria Altmann’s upscale boutique. Never know now, I guess. But I sought out the text of an early post on Sgt. Stryker that I wrote about Lainie’s rescuing angel. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Blogging, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Holidays | 7 Comments »

    Would Arranged Marriages be Better?

    Posted by David Foster on 19th April 2018 (All posts by )

    Stuart Schneiderman thinks that there is much to be said for that approach.

    But was arranged marriage really ever much of a thing in the US, at least within the last couple of centuries?  Here’s Michael Chevalier, a French engineer who visited America circa 1833. After observing that the American are the most money-obsessed people he has ever met, he goes on to say:

    I ought to do the Americans justice on another point. I have said that with them everything was an affair of money; yet there is one thing which among us, a people of lively affections, prone to love and generous by nature, takes the mercantile character very decidedly and which among them has nothing of this character; I mean marriage. We buy a woman with our fortune or we sell ourselves to her for her dowry. The American chooses her, or rather offers himself to her, for her beauty, her intelligence, or her amiable qualities and asks no other portion. Thus, while we make a traffic of what is most sacred, these shopkeepers exhibit a delicacy and loftiness of feeling which would have done honor to the most perfect models of chivalry.

    Reactions to Stuart’s post?

    Posted in Culture, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Society, USA | 22 Comments »

    Strange Comparison, Dangerous Conclusion

    Posted by David Foster on 25th March 2018 (All posts by )

    About a week ago, the WSJ ran an article titled Mark Zuckerberg is No James Madison.  The article argues that a constitution is similar to a block of computer code—a valid point, although I would argue it is also true of legislation and contracts in general…both the code, and the constitution/law/contract must be sufficiently clear and unambiguous to be executable without reference to their originators.

    Then the article goes on to say that ‘the Constitution understands human nature.  Facebook, dangerously at times does not.  In designing the Constitution, Madison managed to appeal to people’s better angels while at the same time calculating man’s capacity to harm and behave badly. Facebook’s designers, on the other hand, appear to have assumed the best about people. They apparently expected users to connect with friends only in benign ways. While the site features plenty of baby and puppy photos, it has also become a place where ISIS brags about beheadings and Russians peddling misinformation seek to undermine the institutions of a free society.’

    The attempt to create a parallel between Zuckerberg and Madison is a strange one, IMO, given the completely different nature of the work the two men were doing. Madison was attempting to create a new model for a self-governing country, Zuckerberg was attempting to make money for himself and his investors, and maybe to provide a little fun and value for his users along the way.

    What I find especially problematic is the ‘therefore’ that the author draws:

    Facebook insists it is not a media company. Maybe so. But unless it takes on the responsibilities of an editor and publisher by verifying the identities of users, filtering content that runs on its platform, and addressing the incentives to post specious or inflammatory “facts,” Facebook should expect to be policed externally.

    But is Facebook really a publisher, or it is it more of a printer?  If someone..Ben Franklin in the mid-1700s or some corporation today…is running a printing shop, running printing jobs for all who will pay, should he or it be held accountable for validating the truth of the material printed and verifying the identities of the customers?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Advertising, Blogging, Business, Civil Liberties, Deep Thoughts, Elections, Law, Tech | 23 Comments »

    History Friday: A Man of Elastic and Convenient Virtue

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 23rd March 2018 (All posts by )

    (From my own website archives, a post from March, 2011, explaining a little of the background to the fight for Texian independence, and a bit of the shifty character of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, whom I think of as Mexico’s bad boyfriend. He brought only grief to poor Mexico, over and over again … and over and over again, Mexico forgave him and took him back.)

    For the writing of Daughter of Texas – which followed the life of an Anglo-German settler’s family in Texas, beginning in the mid 1820’s – I needed to delve into the deep and murky political waters of early 19th century Mexico, as they touched on the matter of Texas. In doing this, I made the not-entirely-unexpected-discovery that  . . .  well, it was an extremely complicated situation. Byzantine, even.  A horrific situation like – say, the siege of the Alamo – did just not appear out of the clear blue, just because Davy Crockett and a couple of hundred Texians and a Mexican strong-man general and his thousands decided one spring day in 1836 to start bashing away at each other. There was about twenty years of back-story there, some of it terribly convoluted, but no less interesting for all of that, and simply crammed with dramatic potential. Curious characters, dramatic incidents, marvelous coincidences, and accounts of political dirty-dealing and quietly heroic sacrifice abound, most of which is barely hinted at, in books and movies about the Texas War for Independence.  Becoming familiar with the circumstances was absolutely necessary: in order to fill out the background, and to explain in a natural fashion how it all came to pass, through the lives and words and experiences of my characters – some of whom were historical characters.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Diversions, History | 14 Comments »