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  • Archive for the 'Deep Thoughts' Category

    “Root Causes”

    Posted by David Foster on 7th May 2021 (All posts by )

    The Biden administration wants to find and solve the ‘root causes’ driving the flood of refugees to the US from the south, and has assigned that task to VP Kamela Harris.  More generally, liberals and ‘progressives’ like to talk about ‘root causes’ for all kinds of things: crime, for example: instead of arresting criminals, just solve the Root Causes of crime!

    Someone needs to explain to these people the concept of ask why five times, and how that concept is properly implemented.  Example:

    PROBLEM: There is oil on factory floor.  Why?

    Looks like it’s coming from that machine over there.

    ACTION: Clean up the oil. But then ask…
    WHY is there oil leaking from that machine.

    The machine has a bad gasket.

    ACTION: Replace the gasket. But then ask..
    WHY was the gasket bad?

    Check out the condition of the gaskets on some other machines.
    Looks like we’ve been buying inferior gaskets.

    ACTION: Change the specifications so we don’t get any more of these. But also ask..
    WHY did we decide to buy the gaskets that we did?

    Uhh…they were cheap? Turns out the purchasing policy for supplies like this says “always buy the low bid.”

    ACTION: Change the policy to give more weight to quality as well as price. But also ask…
    WHY did the head of Purchasing ever approve a policy like this in the first place?

    Maybe because his *incentive program* includes a big component for year-over-year reductions in supplies cost, with no measurement for downtime impact of bad items?

    ACTION: Change the incentive program.
    WHY did a one-sided incentive program like this get created and approved?

    And so on. (There is nothing magic about the number Five)

    But importantly, you don’t wait until you run all the way up and down the chain of causation before you clean up the oil on the floor before someone slips on it and hurts himself. You don’t go through analysis of why inferior gaskets are being purchased before replacing the gaskets before the machine loses oil again and shuts down or destroys itself.

    Democrat politicians often act like they don’t understand these points, even informally and intuitively. Many of them really don’t, I think…but also, many of them just don’t care; accumulation of political power for themselves and their faction is all that matters.  Among their voters/supporters, though, there may be some who can be brought to understand the fallacies of root-causes-only thinking.

    And, very importantly, if you pursue the chain of causation upward to enough levels, you are likely to find causes which are either beyond your ability to influence, or for which such influence has a very long time constant.  In the manufacturing example, for instance, you may be a factory manager in a large company with very little influence on the incentive policies that drive Purchasing to acquire inferior gaskets.  That still doesn’t mean you don’t need to clean up the oil and replace the failed gaskets, anyway.  In the Biden/Harris policy case, serious thought would show that the ability of American leaders to influence the policies, economic systems, and cultures of our southern neighbors is strictly limited, and what influence we can exert is likely to have a very long time constant. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to do anything about the border crisis.

    Posted in Crime and Punishment, Deep Thoughts, Immigration, Latin America, Management, Politics | 17 Comments »

    Archive Post: Pax Romana

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 5th May 2021 (All posts by )

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

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

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Blogging, Capitalism, Deep Thoughts, History | 10 Comments »

    “Believing Untrue Things”

    Posted by Jonathan on 3rd May 2021 (All posts by )

    AVI:

    Believing Untrue Things

    More Motives on Untrue Things

    Summary: People believe in the truth of ideas that don’t withstand even casual empirical scrutiny, e.g., that American police kill more black people than white people every year. Why do so many of us believe in and even defend vehemently the validity of bogus ideas when contrary evidence is easily found?

    You can find many examples of this kind of thing in Amazon reviews of controversial books such as Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean:

    5-Star Reviews

    1-Star Reviews

    The respective authors of the five-star and one-star reviews appear to inhabit separate factual universes. In one universe James Buchanan was a distinguished laissez-faire economist and originator of public-choice theory. In the other universe Buchanan, the Koch brothers and other prominent libertarians were members of a racist conspiracy. How can people on one side of a controversy remain ignorant about the other side’s arguments and even basic facts?

    AVI suggests possible explanations that are worth reading, as always. I think the main problem is the poor quality of our primary and secondary educational systems, particularly in the teaching of history, math and basic statistics. Another big problem is the ignorance of journalists who were educated in our lousy schools, and modern journalism’s clickbait business model that incentivizes the promotion of controversy and conflict even more than was the case back in Front Page days.

    Discuss.

    Posted in Book Notes, Conservatism, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Politics, Society, Systems Analysis | 23 Comments »

    “Yom HaShoah and the importance of recognizing when the rules of the game have changed.”

    Posted by Jonathan on 12th April 2021 (All posts by )

    Worth reading.

    Sarah Hoyt summarizes:

    Not just the conviction that “it can’t happen here.” There is also the deep in-built certainty that tomorrow will be more or less like today, and the worst that can happen within relatively safe bounds. Even while everything is shifting against you. From Pompeii to Nazi Germany, from Alexander’s conquests to Communist Russia, the normalcy bias has killed more human beings than any other factor in history.

    See also Note 12 here.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, History, Human Behavior | 42 Comments »

    A Machine for Preventing Civil War

    Posted by David Foster on 12th March 2021 (All posts by )

    Scott Alexander, in a 2017 post at Slate Star Codex:

    People talk about “liberalism” as if it’s just another word for capitalism, or libertarianism, or vague center-left-Democratic Clintonism. Liberalism is none of these things. Liberalism is a technology for preventing civil war. It was forged in the fires of Hell – the horrors of the endless seventeenth century religious wars. For a hundred years, Europe tore itself apart in some of the most brutal ways imaginable – until finally, from the burning wreckage, we drew forth this amazing piece of alien machinery. A machine that, when tuned just right, let people live together peacefully without doing the “kill people for being Protestant” thing. Popular historical strategies for dealing with differences have included: brutally enforced conformity, brutally efficient genocide, and making sure to keep the alien machine tuned really really carefully.

    Very insightful and correct, I believe, if by liberalism one means free speech, freedom of religion, and limited government, rather than the cluster of ‘progressive’ believe that often fly under the ‘liberalism’ brand today.

    And when the above attributes of a society do not exist or are eroded, then live-and-let live  become difficult to impossible, and all questions become politicized, because political outcomes determine everything.

    When the government controls everything, there is no constructive relief valve for all this pent-up tension.  It all boils down to a “historic” election once every couple of years, upon whose outcome everything depends.  They’re all going to be “historic” elections from now on. That’s not a good thing.

    Ultimately, the game of politics becomes like those Aztec ball games in which the losers are said to have been sacrificed.  Indeed, some of this is happening in America already today, with Democrats demanding that Trump and his supporters be pursued post-election in almost every possible way.

    If the machine of liberalism (as defined above) is destroyed, then another kind of machine will quickly take its place…the machine described by Jean Anouilh in his version of Antigone:

    The spring is wound up tight. It will uncoil of itself. That is what is so convenient in tragedy. The least little turn of the wrist will do the job . . . The rest is automatic. You don’t need to lift a finger. The machine is in perfect order; it has been oiled ever since time began, and it runs without friction

     

     

     

     

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Deep Thoughts, History, USA | 90 Comments »

    To Disappear in Dreams

    Posted by David Foster on 6th March 2021 (All posts by )

    An article in Wired says: The future of virtual reality is far more than just video games. Silicon Valley sees the creation of virtual worlds as the ultimate free-market solution to a political problem. In a world of increasing wealth inequality, environmental disaster, and political instability, why not sell everyone a device that whisks them away to a virtual world free of pain and suffering?

    and quotes John Carmack,  Doom co-creator and the former CTO of Oculus:

    People react negatively to any talk of economics, but it is resource allocation. You have to make decisions about where things go. Economically, you can deliver a lot more value to a lot of people in the virtual sense.

    Actually, I doubt that there is any kind of tech-industry-wide conspiracy to cool the people out and keep them from revolting by enmeshing them into virtual worlds…mostly, this is just about making money and doing cool technical stuff…on the supply side that is.  On the demand site, it should be of more than a little concern that escapism is so important to so many.

    I’m reminded of some of the reactions when the movie Avatar came out.  CNN reported at the time:

    James Cameron’s completely immersive spectacle “Avatar” may have been a little too real for some fans who say they have experienced depression and suicidal thoughts after seeing the film because they long to enjoy the beauty of the alien world Pandora.

    According to the article, there were more than 1000 posts to a forum for people trying to cope from the depression they experienced after seeing this film..and not being able to stay within it permanantly.

    Neptunus Lex responded: “Some folks don’t get the point. You have to come home when it’s over.”

    But we seem to have an increasing number of people who don’t want to come home when it’s over…who don’t want it to ever be over…but want to stay in that virtual world permanently.

    And, relatedly, there is also pharmaceutical-based escapism, legal or illegal.  Various forms of addiction, already at concerning levels, have risen considerably over the last year.  And, apparently, it has long been true that considerable numbers of people find an ordinary trip on an ordinary commercial airliner to be so stressful that they medicate themselves beforehand.

    In my 2010 post on the Avatar reactions, I said:

    I immediately thought of the old Chinese opium dens…which were largely inhabited by people whose lives were so miserable that their desire to disappear in dreams was entirely understandable.

    But what misery or bleakness are the would-be permanant habitués of the Avatar den seeking to escape?

    And this question can be extended to other types of addiction-dens, as well.

    The title of this post was inspired by a line in Tom Russell’s song Ambrose Larsen and another song on the same album, The Dreamin’.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Media, Society, Tech | 29 Comments »

    Narrowing Horizons

    Posted by David Foster on 31st January 2021 (All posts by )

    William Shirer, on his experiences in Germany during the early Nazi era:

    I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state. Though unlike most Germans I had daily access to foreign newspapers, especially those of London, Paris and Zurich, which arrived the day after publication, and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one’s inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources, a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda. Often in a German home or office or sometimes in casual conversation with a stranger in a restaurant, a beer hall, a café, I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious that they were parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspapers. Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but on such occasions one was met with such a stare of incredulity, such a shock of silence, as if one had blasphemed the Almighty, that one realized how useless it was even to try to make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for the truth, said they were.

    Even though Shirer had plenty of access to outside news and information sources, and was well aware of Nazi lies, he still found it difficult to escape psychologically from the effects of the stiflingly-constrained information environment.

    Many of us have wondered how intelligent people–some of whom we may know personally–can fall so completely under the spell of the Democrat worldview, as it exists in its present ‘woke’ state…a worldview which is replete with ‘the most outlandish assertions,’ to use Shirer’s phrase.  But consider: if one gets one’s news from CNN, MSNBC, and even the traditional networks, and from newspapers such as The Washington Post and The New York Times and their imitators…and one’s entertainment from mainstream movies and musical groups…and one works for a company, university, or ‘nonprofit’…then one is living within a highly uniform information and opinion environment. Yes, you might be exposed to the occasional dissident opinion on social media or directly from friends and acquaintances, but you will develop ‘antibodies’, inculcated by the approved sources, which lead you to dismiss such opinions as conspiracy theories, brainwashing by Trump, or something similar.

    It is, of course, much easier to find dissenting voices in 2021 America than it was in the time and place of which Shirer wrote.  (Shirer does say that ‘in those days, in the Thirties, a German listener could still tune his dial to a score of foreign radio stations’ without taking much risk…but most didn’t, evidently, or chose to disbelieve what they heard from outside sources.)

    The psychological drive to conform reinforces the controlled information environment and discourages explorations outside of it.  In my post Oxytocin and Conformity, I cited some research on how the ‘cuddling and belonging’ hormone oxytocin affects public and private conformity, and recalled one of the episodes of the TV series The World at War in which a German man spoke about the temptation to conform.  He had been strongly anti-Nazi, but admitted that he had felt a strong emotional pull to join the rallies and be a part of the the movement.  (He said it much more eloquently than the foregoing sentence would suggest)  I also cited a blog post whose author, after critiquing the craziness of the extreme “progressives,”  went on to say:

    I’m going to be very real with you for a moment, and take off my hat has a blogger, an author, and whatever else I may be, and just speak to you as a man.

    This could have been me.

    Does that surprise you? There was a time I skirted so close to falling under this spell, it would shock you. I felt the guilt, the social pressure, the desire for conformity. Despite the terrible weight such ideology carries on the mind, it is absurdly easy to fall into it. Every day we are assaulted by the agitprop. It is so easy to just say “yes, it’s all my fault, I will submit and obey.”

    It will bring momentary relief, because you will no longer have to fight a narrative that is bombarded upon you 24 hours a day. That mental effort is, itself, rather exhausting on the mind. But if you accept the chains, that is a far greater weight, one that will destroy you. The chains are seductive. They call, because of the enormous weight of social power behind them.

    The pressure is both great and subtle. Imagine a conversation about the weather, innocent enough on its own. A friend might say “wow, that global warming sure is kicking in today!” You’ve a few choices here. You can challenge him, but the immediate counter is likely to be something like “well, 99% of scientists agree, sooooo….” The implication, of course, is that you are stupid for disagreeing with 99% of scientists (whether or not there is any truth to that claim, either). You could remain silent because it’s easier. Or you could just give in, regardless of the truth of the matter, because it’s easiest. Meanwhile, if you counter your friend successfully, you may be down a friend by the end of the night.

    So whether or not a lot of folks believe this thing, soon consensus is reached, as much to peer pressure as anything else. Then it is, further, easier to agree on welfare, tax policy, affirmative action, black lives matter, social justice, etc… Each one has a superficial rhetorical argument which sounds nice, and which has enormous media programming and social pressure behind it.

    A thousand such chats happen every day, both in the real world, and the social media world. The sum total of which is designed to move you, via peer pressure and Weaponized Empathy, toward self-hatred, and intense personal guilt for things which you neither did, nor were capable of preventing.

    Soon a man might find himself agreeing with lunatic propositions that all Republicans are literal Nazis, and Donald Trump is worse than Hitler because… well, nobody really knows the reasons.

    Submission is always the easier short-term choice. Long-term, however, it just destroys a man’s soul.

    I am not asserting that the present-day Democrat belief system is identical to Naziism (although there are indeed some disturbing similarities as well as differences), or that the control of the information environment is as tight as what existed in mid-1930s Germany…but still, when you step back and look at all the ways in which a consistent worldview is being promulgated and views from outside that worldview are being suppressed, then the information horizons–especially for those people who don’t have a particularly strong need to think for themselves or willingness to challenge accepted beliefs–are narrowing at a pretty frightening rate.

     

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Germany, History, Human Behavior, Science, Society, USA | 52 Comments »

    Feudalism in America?

    Posted by David Foster on 13th January 2021 (All posts by )

    Veronika Kyrylenko believes that we may be headed for a new era of feudalism in this country. I don’t completely agree with her analysis, but it’s a thought-provoking piece.

    See also my 2018 post Coupling, which makes the point that the expansion of connectivity–geographically and otherwise–has downsides as well as upsides. The downsides may well lead individuals to seek security and protection, even at the cost of autonomy and freedom.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Society, USA | 35 Comments »

    Book Review: Year of Consent, by Kendell Foster Crossen

    Posted by David Foster on 5th January 2021 (All posts by )

    Year of Consent, by Kendell Foster Crossen

    —-

    This is a pulp SF novel from 1954, which has uncomfortable relevance to our present era.

    The story is set in the then-future year of 1990.  The United States is still nominally a democracy, but the real power lies with the social engineers…sophisticated advertising & PR men…who use psychological methods to persuade people that they really want what they are supposed to want.  (Prefiguring “nudging”)  The social engineers are aided in their tasks by a giant computer called Sociac (500,000 vacuum tubes! 860,000 relays!) and colloquially known as ‘Herbie.’  The political system now in place is called Democratic Rule by Consent.  While the US still has a President, he is a figurehead and the administration of the country is actually done by the General Manager of the United States….who himself serves at the pleasure of the social engineers.  The social engineers work in a department called ‘Communications’, which most people believe is limited to such benign tasks as keeping the telephones and the television stations in operation.  Actually, its main function is the carrying out of influence operations.

    One approach involves the publishing of novels which are fictional, but carry implicit social and/or political messages…via, for example, the beliefs and affiliations of the bad guys versus the good guys. Even the structure of novels is managed for messaging reasons: romance-story plots should not be boy gets girl…loses girl…gets girl back, but rather boy gets girl, loses girl, gets different girl who is really right for him.

    Some methods are more direct, although their real objectives are not stated.  One such objective is population control: If the fertility rate is running a little low, advertising is ramped up for a pill called Glamorenes, which are said to create the “rounded, glamorous figure of a TV star…remember–it’s Glamorenes for glamor.”  Actually, the real function of Glamorenes, which is top secret, is to increase a woman’s sex drive and expand the fertility window.  On the other hand, if the birth rate is running too high, the ad emphasis switches to Slimettes for women and Vigorone for men, both of which have a contraceptive effect.  The book’s protagonist, Gerald Leeds, is one of the few who is in on the secret, and when he hears a Glamorenes ad, he realizes that this is the real reason why his girlfriend, Nancy, has been acting especially affectionate lately.

    Few people, even at the highest levels of government, realize just how powerful the Communications Department really is.  “Even the biggest wheels only know part of it.  They think the Communications Administrative Department exists to help them–and not the other way around.”

    The computer known as Sociac (‘Herby’) accumulates vast amounts of data on individuals, including such things as shopping, dining, and vacation preferences. “Thus, when the administration wanted to make a new move, they knew exactly how to condition the people so that it would be backed. Or they knew exactly what sort of man to put up to win a popular election.” Telephone calls are tapped, but are rarely listened to directly by government agents; rather, they are fed directly to “a calculator” (perhaps a front-end to Herbie) and added to “the huge stock of intimate knowledge about the people.”

    Those individuals who resist the conditioning and are found to hold unapproved opinions–or find themselves to hold unapproved opinions–are said to have “communications blocks,” and good citizens will act on their own to request treatment for such blocks. The first level of treatment is the Psychotherapy Calculator, an interactive system which will help the patient change any objectionable opinions and behavior.  But in some cases, the PC determines that stronger methods are necessary, and in those cases, the patient is referred for a lobotomy.  The escorting of patients for mandatory psychotherapy and lobotomy procedures is done by a white-uniformed police force known as the Clinic Squad.

    Citizens are, of course, expected to report any instances of unapproved beliefs or actions.  When the protagonist’s girlfriend Nancy overhears one of her colleagues expressing sympathy for a man who is in serious trouble, she reports the girl immediately. (“For the moment I disliked Nancy,” says Gerald.  “Then I felt sorry for her.”)  Nancy herself is concerned that there may be something wrong with her, and has considered reporting herself for voluntary automated psychotherapy.  “If I did have (something wrong with her), I’d want to be purged of it quickly before it could make me do something awful like that poor Mr Shell”…Gerald notes that her hand was shaking as she lifted her glass to finish the drink.

    Gerald, the protagonist, works within the Communications Department…unknown to his superiors, he is a member of a resistance organization which aims to overthrow the existing system of government and to restore individual liberty. He must feign agreement when his immediate boss talks about how wonderful the system is and how misguided are those who oppose it:

    Never has there been more freedom anywhere than in America today.  We’ve done away with police and even prisons.  Crime has been almost wiped out since we recognized it as a social disease.  We’ve done away with poverty. There are fewer restrictions on people than ever before in the history of mankind.  For the first time they’re really free.

    Gerald reflects:

    Even if it hadn’t been dangerous, I wouldn’t have argued with him.  He believed what he was saying. His faith was the faith of a Torquemada backed by science.  There was no way to make him see that the social engineers had taken away only one freedom, but that it was the ultimate freedom–the right to choose.  Everything…was decided for them and then they were conditioned to want it.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Advertising, Big Government, Book Notes, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Russia, Tech, USA | 16 Comments »

    New Year’s Eve, 2020/21

    Posted by David Foster on 31st December 2020 (All posts by )

    A thought from the late and very great Neptunus Lex:

    “I’ve often wished that you could split at each important choice in life. Go both ways, each time a fork in the road came up. Compare notes at the end, those of us that made it to the clearing at the end of the path. Tell it all over a tumbler of smokey, single malt.”

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Holidays | 36 Comments »

    In Accordance With the Prophecies…

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 24th November 2020 (All posts by )

    …the Schlichter prophecies, I mean, wherein the good Colonel Kurt S. postulated a political/geographic split of the United States along red-blue lines. In his bleak and blackly humorous vision, (carried out over a five-volume series) the middle portion of the States carried on with fidelity to the Constitution, free-range capitalism, and universal military service as an obligation for full citizenship. Meanwhile the east and west coasts as a so-called “People’s Republic” carried on under a selection of increasingly deranged and erratic progressive principles, turning into a dysfunctional combination of Portland’s CHAZ/CHOP, any PC-addled university you could name, Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe and Venezuela at this very moment. The series is meant to be grimly entertaining, but I’m beginning to believe that the split has already happened – not in the neat geographic manner (with some violent hiccups) outlined – but in a slower and murkier manner. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Civil Society, Conservatism, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Leftism, Trump, Urban Issues, USA | 57 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 23rd November 2020 (All posts by )

    J. E. Dyer:

    This is a profound crisis for America. In my view, it has reached the level of the question of slavery, which was too big an issue to be settled by conventional expectations for courts of law and social and political transactions.
     
    In 1861, there were many Americans, as there are many today, who didn’t see the question as being that much beyond the scope of ordinary remedy.
     
    But it was. For what it’s worth, I don’t foresee an armed battle erupting over the 2020 election, per se. That’s partly because there’s no obvious way to organize one. Unlike the situation of the Civil War, there’s no territorial division to make options plain.
     
    But the spiritual divide between Americans who don’t perceive a crisis (or whose intention is to provoke one and benefit from it), and Americans who do perceive one, could not be deeper. Either there must be a fight, to authenticate the 2020 vote and ensure that it produces a new president only if it was really honest and fraud-free, or there need not be a fight, but only a formulaic consultation which cannot possibly establish the meaningful absence of fraud.
     
    If the choice is supposed to be the latter, voting is meaningless anyway, and no one is under moral compulsion to agree to be governed by its “outcomes.”

    Worth reading in full.

    Posted in Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Elections, Political Philosophy, Politics, Trump | 39 Comments »

    Is Free Speech Too Exhausting?

    Posted by David Foster on 25th October 2020 (All posts by )

    A group of Duke Law students, demanding the disinvitation of visiting speaker, used the phrase ‘we are tired.’  Jonathan Turley remarks:

    Those three words sum up a great deal of the anti-free speech movement growing on our campuses. Students and faculty have grown tired of free speech. Opposing views are now treated as threats and intolerable for students.

    It does seem that a lot of people these days–especially, perhaps, people of college age–find it incredibly wearying and even threatening to be presented with any views that contradict their own.  Reading the above, I was immediately reminded of a remark that a young woman made (to writer Ida Wylie) during the Nazi era:

    We Germans are so happy.  We are free from freedom”

    There definitely seems to be a reaction against free expression going on in America today…how strong it is and how deep it goes remains to be seen.  But as one indicator, a survey by YouGov shows that 43% of those who identify as Liberals favor firing an executive who *privately* donated money to Trump, and 22% of those who identify as Conservatives favor firing an executive who privately donated to Biden…the numbers are 50% and 36% for *strong* liberals and conservatives respectively.

    What are the causes for the apparently-growing hostility toward free speech in the US?  Part of it, perhaps, is a hankering for security.  David Brooks suggests that:

    The values of the Millennial and Gen Z generations that will dominate in the years ahead are the opposite of Boomer values: not liberation, but security; not freedom, but equality; not individualism, but the safety of the collective; not sink-or-swim meritocracy, but promotion on the basis of social justice…Distrustful people try to make themselves invulnerable, armour themselves up in a sour attempt to feel safe… start to see threats that aren’t there.

    I’m not generally much of a fan of Brooks’ analyses and conclusion, but even a stopped (analog) clock is right twice a day.  Perhaps he has a valid point here?

    Another factor, I suspect, is changes in family structure.  Kids who are put in a day-care situation at a very early age may develop a lifelong or at least long-term tendency to identify with the group…whatever that group might be…more than those who are raised in a traditional family situation, and especially so if there is only one parent in the home.  As one data point, here’s an interesting article by someone who was raised in a collective situation in an early Israeli kibbutz.

    And perhaps the threats and realities of Islamic terrorism have also had an influence…for 20 years now, there has been a constant (if low-level) sense that ‘if you say anything that the radical Islamists don’t like, they may kill you.’  Has this led to a habit of speech-guarding that has been generalized into many aspects of life?

     

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Israel, USA | 38 Comments »

    History Friday: The Princess Who Went Her Own Way

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 23rd October 2020 (All posts by )

    (History Friday is back – this is part one, of two.)

    She wasn’t actually a princess, through it is the usual understanding that the sons and daughters of a ruling monarch are princes and princesses. But they did things differently in Russia; up until the Russian Revolution, the legitimate offspring of the Tsar were grand dukes or grand duchesses, born to the purple and far outranking mere princes and princesses, who seem to have been, in the Russian scheme of things, merely mid-ranked nobility.

    This grand duchess was named Olga; the youngest of five children of Tsar Alexander III and his wife, the Tsarina Maria Feodorovna, originally Princess Dagmar, daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark. (Her older sister Alix was married to Albert, Prince of Wales.) Born in June, 1882, the infant Olga was not in the most robust of health. Her father as the Tsar of all Russians, and her mother being a veritable whirlwind when it came to duties social and administrative, Olga and her next-oldest brother Michael were raised day to day by governesses and tutors, as was customary for the upper classes. They had a comfortable, but rather Spartan lifestyle at Gatchina, the country palace of the Romanovs. She and her brother slept on plain cots, ate porridge for breakfast, bathed in cold water, rarely saw other children and had daily lessons – and private time for walks in the nearby woods with their formidable father. Olga excelled at painting and sketching – and in fact, for the remainder of her life, most always had a paintbrush in her hand, and as an adult earned a modest living from her watercolors. (a selection of her watercolors is here) Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Deep Thoughts, Diversions, Europe, History | 22 Comments »

    Paint it Black

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 30th September 2020 (All posts by )

    Well, if this isn’t a good reason for a grad student passionately interested in English literature – meaning the study of classic literature written in English (starting with Beowulf and running all the way to Tom Stoppard) to avoid the U of Chicago and embrace a program of self-education then I don’t know what is. It’s akin to being invited to a grand, lavish multi-course banquet and then only allowed a single tiny plate of hors d oeuvres. Which you must consume, and praise lavishly, and not even consider looking over at the main course. Or for another comparison – be fascinated by American pop music all through the 20th century, and then only be permitted to specialize in Motown. Because … reasons. Anyone fascinated by Chaucer or Tin Pan Alley is just plain out of luck, because of systemic racism, and overwhelming whiteness of the culture and the stain of slavery, et cetera, which is usually the reason given. Frankly, I think it’s just momentarily fashionable to Paint everything Black. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Civil Society, Conservatism, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior | 30 Comments »

    The Year That Everything Happened

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 21st September 2020 (All posts by )

    Weirdly enough – and this apparently happens to authors at random – I had a dream about the plot of a new book late this past summer and woke up just in time to remember it all. A novel set in WWII, which is at least half a century or more out of my fictional headspace; I like the 19th century. Got all the reference books, the books or art, a grasp of the vocab and the look of the whole 19th century universe and outlook. But – WWII. For me, it is just enough close in time that I knew a lot of people personally involved, from Great-Aunt Nan, who was one of the first-ever women recruited for the WAACs, to any number of high school teachers (some of whom were more forthcoming about their service than others) to the Gentleman With Whom I Kept Company for about a decade, to a neighbor of Mom and Dad’s who had been a prisoner of war in the Far East and fortunate enough to have survived the experience. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, Book Notes, Deep Thoughts, History, Military Affairs | 42 Comments »

    In the Field

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 8th September 2020 (All posts by )

    Sometimes, long after first reading a book or watching a movie and enjoying it very much, I have come back to re-reading or watching, and then wondering what I had ever seen in that in the first place. So it was with the original M*A*S*H book and especially with the movie. I originally read the book in college and thought, “Eww, funny but gross and obscene, with their awful practical jokes and nonexistent sexual morals.” Then I re-read after having been in the military myself for a couple of years, and thought, “Yep, my people!”

    The movie went through pretty much the same evolution with me, all but one element – and that was when I began honestly wondering why the ostensible heroes had such a hate on for Major Burns and the nurse Major Houlihan. Why did those two deserve such awful, disrespectful treatment? In the movie they seemed competent and agreeable enough initially. In the book it was clear that Major Burns was an incompetent surgeon with delusions of adequacy, and that Major Houlihan was Regular Army; that being the sole reason for the animus. But upon second viewing of the movie, it seemed like Duke Forrest, Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John McIntyre were just bullying assholes selecting a random target for abuse for the amusement of the audience. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Deep Thoughts, Film, History, Holidays, Korea, Medicine, Middle East, Military Affairs, Personal Narrative, War and Peace | 30 Comments »

    The Rolling Kristallnacht

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 19th August 2020 (All posts by )

    The rolling Kristallnacht of “mostly peaceful” protests organized and sponsored by the unholy union of Antifa and BLM continues unabated in those mostly progressive Democrat party municipalities such as Chicago, Minneapolis, Portland, and New York. Give the protesters, rioters and looters credit for stamina; they’ve kept it up for nearly two months now, and look to be going strong, still. They haven’t much dared venture out and away from those progressive sanctuaries, although half a dozen did make a trip to Sturgis to provoke the bikers rallying there, which futile bit of resistance theater they did from behind a screen of local police. Which brings to mind Insty the Blogfaddah’s oft-repeated observation that the police – which the Antifaites and BLM protesters wish to abolish – are there to protect accused criminals from the rest of us. Frankly, it would have been laugh-out-loud comic if the bikers in Sturgis had been allowed to pants the Antifaites and run them out of town naked, but there you are. Obviously the Antifaites and BLMmers are hoping to provoke an over-the-top violent reaction and a blooming new crop of martyr Horst Wessels; they must be quite annoyed that so far, the rest of us have kept our temper. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Capitalism, Civil Society, Conservatism, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Urban Issues | 58 Comments »

    Goedel’s Theorem Extended

    Posted by David Foster on 8th August 2020 (All posts by )

    In 1931, the mathematician Kurt Goedel showed that for any consistent  formal system of logic of logic (of at least a certain degree of complexity), there will always be some true statements that cannot be proved, and some false statements that cannot be disproved within the system.  No matter how many axioms you add to the system, there will still be statements that cannot be proved or disproved within it.

    I was reminded of Goedel’s Theorem by some of the more far-out accusations of racism, sexism, etc that have been made against individuals lately, and was thinking that there should be an analogous theorem:  No matter how an individual chooses to act and speak in a way that will shield him from accusations of X-ism, there will always be a way that someone can build a case that he is in fact an X-ist.

    But before I could post about that extension to the theorem, along comes this post by a physician, talking about some of the ways his patients have managed to misinterpret the instructions for using birth control pills–leading to a need to specify more and more detail when giving such instructions.

    But adding more detail probably like adding more axioms to one of Goedel’s formal systems…so the additional analogous theorem is: No matter how detailed the instructions for doing something may be, there will always be a way for someone to interpret them incorrectly.

     

     

    Posted in Civil Society, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Science | 20 Comments »

    It’s a Multi-Multi-Causal World

    Posted by Lucretius on 3rd August 2020 (All posts by )

    One difference between ideological worldviews and factual worldviews can be found in the depth and (dare I say) diversity of their causal models.

    Consider the fall of Rome, for which professional and armchair historians have identified hundreds of factors, from debasement of the currency to lead poisoning among the Roman elite to wasteful government spending to the decadence of late Roman morals to the rise of Christianity to bad leadership to military overextension (and many others). Was there just one cause? No, there never is.

    In recent times, consider the U.S. housing bubble of the mid-2000s. Was the one true cause artificially low interest rates, financial market deregulation, the emergence of a high-risk secondary market in mortgage-backed securities, government policies that encouraged too many people to become homeowners, greed among potential homeowners, greed among mortgage processors, promotion of get-rich-quick house-flipping schemes in the media? Nope, there was plenty of blame to go around.

    How about police violence? That must all and only be caused by systemic racism, right? Not so fast. Sociologist Randall Collins has identified seven causes: local governments raising money through fines and requiring police to collect those fines, using the police to enforce unpopular regulations, hypocrisy and cynicism among police officers, the inner-city Black code of defying the police and the common practice of resisting arrest (the police don’t like defiance), property destruction provoking the police in certain situations, adrenaline overload among front-line police officers, the fact that police are trained for extreme situations and aren’t trained to defuse such situations, and actual racism among police officers. And there are likely plenty more: qualified immunity laws, the decline of community policing, corruption in police unions, the lack of racial diversity on police forces, the militarization of the police, gang violence, the war on drugs, etc.

    Furthermore, each one of the causes of a complex social phenomenon itself has multiple causes. To take the last-mentioned cause of police violence, i.e. the war on drugs, we could identify the role of “bootleggers and Baptists” in defining the underlying regulations, the attempt by politicians to buy votes by appearing to be tough on crime, the desire for larger budgets and more power on the part of police departments, the misguided tool of asset forfeiture, the moral corruption of too many people seeking oblivion in psychoactive substances, the lack of higher ideals in the culture at large, etc.

    Anyone who says there is just one cause (from the modern-day Maoists who believe that systemic racism suffuses all of society, to the anarchists and some libertarians who see the hand of big government behind every problem in America) has an essentially ideological point of view and is unlikely to be open to persuasion by facts and reasons, at best having their head stuck in the sand and at worst preferring conformity and intimidation.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts | 31 Comments »

    The Newsmaking Machinery Behind the Popular Song

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 30th July 2020 (All posts by )

    This last weekend, I had a tiny and depressing demonstration about the facile nature of local news – the news making machinery behind the popular song as the pop song used to go. I did local news-gathering myself as an in-house broadcast professional, doing a daily radio news program for Armed Forces Radio, Seoul Korea edition. I know how the pudding is made; have the basic framework for the story, go out and talk to people for the bits that fill in the story already mentally mapped out in your mind – and go and do it again the next day, and the day following. Daily news is sausage; stuff that casing with whatever the story requires, a judicious combination of meat or filler.

    There was a house fire last Sunday afternoon in our neighborhood – the first I knew of it (since I was working the final edit of Luna City #9) was when the Daughter Unit flung open the door, saying that a nearby house was on fire, that the dogs from the house were running loose on the street, and could I bring some doggie treats and help everyone catch them? Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Dogs, Media | 13 Comments »

    Worth Contemplating

    Posted by David Foster on 24th July 2020 (All posts by )

    The closer men came to perfecting for themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew in richness and power and beauty; for them, perhaps, it was easier for them to see that something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle’s eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn. Well, they were going to destroy it again, were they,  this garden Earth, civilized and knowing, to be torn apart again that man might hope again in wretched darkness.

    –Walter Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz

     

    Relevant to our current situation in the US and in other Western countries, perhaps?

     

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Europe, USA | 5 Comments »

    The Unbearable Whiteness of Being Robin DiAngelo

    Posted by Lucretius on 18th July 2020 (All posts by )

    Dear Robin:

    I watched your video. No, not that free one on YouTube, but the one you presented to me and my co-workers and for which you probably charged ten thousand dollars. Nice work if you can get it, as Ira Gershwin once quipped. (Do Jewish folks count as white, too?)

    No, I haven’t read your book on white fragility. The video was enough for me, riddled as it was with execrable reasoning directed against ridiculous strawmen such as: individualism is the doctrine that human beings are utterly uninfluenced by the culture in which they live. Also, reading all those little black letters surrounded by an expanse of white paper is kind of a metaphor for structural racism, isn’t it? So reading must be bad.

    Although I’m not buying what you’re selling, I’ll grant that you’re full of passionate intensity for your cause. Sadly, this reminds me of that great poem by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, in which he observed that “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” (Do Irish folks count as white, too?)

    The exact nature of your cause is somewhat unclear, couched as it is in the fog of critical discourse analysis and other Marxist claptrap; yet apparently it has something to do with establishing the cultural hegemony of your black-and-white ideology in which skin color is the only thing that really matters in life: in other words, a cleverly manipulative repackaging of the ideas of Italian communist Antonio Gramsci. (Do Italian folks count as white, too?)

    As you no doubt know but wish to suppress, 100 years ago there was no such thing as whiteness. Instead, the Anglo-Saxon majority in America drew cultural, not color, distinctions between themselves and the Irish, Italians, Slavs, and everyone else – at best barely tolerating some of these peoples. Your precious notion of whiteness is a more recent ideological construct, into the origins of which you and your ilk likely don’t want us to inquire.

    So Robin, what’s really the point? All I got out of your talk is that anyone who doesn’t have really dark skin (yes, I noticed your jibe about light-skinned blacks and their distasteful “colorism”) should feel endlessly guilty in an original sin kind of way and therefore should endlessly atone for their sins through self-renunciation, confessions of complicity in systemic racism, and preferably re-education at the hands of high-paid diversity consultants like you.

    Finally, your talk didn’t mention any actual Black people – like, say, Martin Luther King, Jr. The reason isn’t hard to find: MLK eloquently said that “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Yet to you that is unacceptable, because you believe a money-grubbing, power-hungry, paleface re-education professor has the right to dictate to Black folks what they can think and how they can live (and if they don’t submit to your dictates, I guess they too must count as white, at least on the inside). Last I heard, that kind of dehumanizing condescension was called racism.

    Posted in Current Events, Deep Thoughts | 9 Comments »

    “My advice to you is to get a sextant”

    Posted by Jonathan on 12th July 2020 (All posts by )

    This was said to me by someone who had watched the Shackleton documentary on Amazon video.

    I’m wondering if we could substitute an iphone?

    Posted in Deep Thoughts | 23 Comments »

    America’s Maoist Moment

    Posted by Lucretius on 7th July 2020 (All posts by )

    Well, here we are, transfixed at the spectacle of a slow-motion riot by a benighted mob, beneath whose thin patina of concern for justice is the base metal of Maoist ideology. Their obsession with desecrating statues reveals not an interest in the fate of particular human beings but a symbolical cast of mind. The fact that they moved quickly from Confederate generals to the Founding Fathers and thence to Abraham Lincoln (“The Great Emancipator”) and even the black former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass leads many observers to decry the abject ignorance of this mob.

    Au contraire! These people know exactly what they are doing and who their enemies are.

    For Lincoln and Douglass, emancipation was emancipation into citizenship within a free society, encapsulated in Douglass’s “three boxes”: the ballot box (the right to vote), the jury box (the right to trial by a jury of one’s peers), and the cartridge box (the right to keep and bear arms) – often supplemented with the soap box (the right to freedom of speech, which Douglass exercised as eloquently as any American ever has).

    For modern-day Maoists, universal human rights such as these are noxious impediments to the true liberation of a socialist society.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Current Events, Deep Thoughts | 7 Comments »