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    Draining the Swamp: Progressive Politics – the Road to Crony Capitalist Perdition

    Posted by Kevin Villani on 17th June 2018 (All posts by )

    From A Libertarian Republic to Majoritarian-Totalitarian Democracy: a Summary

    The 2016 American Presidential Election

    Trust in government fell by almost 80% from the end of the Eisenhower Administration to the end of the Obama Administration. Then Americans endured one of the most divisive and longest two year election campaigns leading up to the 2016 election. Former Democrat turned Republican Donald trump defeated a field of 17 traditional center-right Republicans to run against traditionally center –left Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton who turned left to defeat her socialist competitor Bernie Sanders in the primary. Sanders correctly argued that the U.S. political system is rigged – more than he knew at the time – but responded by promising his generally young supporters socialism without totalitarianism. The public has endured another two years of divisiveness as the losing party tries to undermine and some would impeach the winner.

    Republican nominee and arguably crony capitalist businessman Donald Trump, the son of a crony capitalist housing developer, ran on the paradoxical promise to “drain the swamp.” The faux democratic election of crony capitalist supremo Vladimir Putin in 2011 drew the public reprobation of then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the subsequent Democratic Party nominee. Putin responded with a campaign of not so fake news not to elect Trump – they had the same polls as everybody else – but to expose Clinton as a crony capitalist who also engaged in election-rigging. He hit pay dirt. The faux Russian collusion scandal has since been used to undermine the legitimacy of the trump Administration.

    On the issue of trade there was no difference between the three main candidates – all opposed the new TTP trade agreement. The U.S. trade deficit has been about $500 billion a year during this century, consumption financed mostly with additional debt. Candidate Clinton, who supported China’s entry into the WTO during the Clinton Administration agreed she would if elected renegotiate NAFTA, the trade bill passed at her husband’s initiative. On the related issue of immigration, candidate Clinton voted for the bipartisan Secure Fence Act of 2006, as did then senators Obama and Schumer.

    The Obama Administration had doubled the federal debt outstanding to over $20 trillion – and the unfunded liability is approximately ten times that. President Obama’s Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff publically warned as early as 2010 that the debt was a threat to national security. Candidate Clinton promised she wouldn’t add a penny to the national debt, but her platform had an imbedded $10 trillion increase, less than Sanders to be sure. Candidate Trump promised to eliminate the debt in eight years by increasing economic growth. Clinton’s was a political lie, Trump’s an outlandish campaign promise since going unfulfilled: his appropriations bill contained a $200 billion increase in spending, a Democratic victory for domestic spending in return for Republican defense spending.

    Candidate Trump ran against the “deep state” wars and military interventions that candidate Clinton had voted for. But as President, Trump embraced it with overwhelming Democratic support to punish Russia.

    Progressivism’s Administrative State

    The Democrats’ agenda has arguably fared much better under Trump than Republicans did under Obama. Given these similarities in proposed and actual policies, the subsequent animosity might appear puzzling. But the biggest difference among the candidates relates to the relative roles of the public and private sectors. The U.S. is now governed by an unaccountable patria administrative state: judicial and legislative subsumed in the executive branch and sometimes independent even of that – judge, jury and executioner. The new religion is “science” requiring a faux consensus and leadership by the “experts” as proposed by John Kenneth Galbraith in the New Industrial State (1967) over a half century ago.

    Washington, D.C. is a place where self interested deals are made in hotel lobbies and K street offices, but the entire federal bureaucracy sits on a former swamp. Most federal politicians are political swamp people having worked their way up in local and state politics by making political deals for budget and/or tax subsidies and/or regulatory discretion – legal extortion. Candidate Clinton a self described progressive and candidate Sanders a socialist, the former supports state control of business, the later favors more direct state ownership.

    The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, followed by the Soviet Union two years later. In 1995 U.S. President Bill Clinton declared “The era of big government is over.” Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair, publishing in a Fabian pamphlet in 1998 argued: “Liberals (classical, i.e., American conservatives) asserted the primacy of individual liberty in the market economy; social democrats promoted social justice with the state as its main agent. There is no necessary conflict between the two, accepting as we now do that state power is one means to achieve our goals, but not the only one and emphatically not an end in itself.” But “the values which have guided progressive politics for more than a century – democracy, liberty, justice, mutual obligation and internationalism” has lead in practice to “state control, high taxation and producer interests (crony capitalism).” By the end of the century a few years after Blair spoke, the market had reached The Commanding Heights of the economy. But a decade later the Obama Administration had put the state back on top, seeking to control not just health care but finance and energy.

    Progressivism – like fascism and communism – started with the best of intentions, in opposition to crony capitalism. Social welfare programs were implemented to spread the wealth and provide a safety net, but during the progressive Obama Administration economic growth per capita stagnated. Candidate Trump believed that rolling back the administrative state regulations and the tax on savings and investment as suggested by Blair would restore real private economic growth, the key to managing the public deficit. His Democratic opponents both favored a vast expansion of the administrative state and increases in the tax on capital.

    Progressive Internationalism and the New World Order

    Progressives supported freer trade even if not reciprocal in the post WW II era because America could still enjoy a balance of trade surplus that could be used to fund investments abroad and a “new world order” of American dominance in a bi-polar world with the Soviet Union and its satellites. The European Union evolved as a mechanism to end European – especially German – “nationalism” in favor of this plan. Two events undercut this agenda of international control through capital flows: the 1960s wars on poverty and Vietnam turned American surpluses into deficits, and the common European currency created a German economic hegemony over Europe. The U.S. today is to China what Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland are to Germany, and that’s not a compliment. Both China and Germany – whose exports equal China’s with only 6% of the population – are mercantilist countries pursuing low wages and consumption domestically so that future generations can live off the debt that finances their over-consuming customers.

    Germany understands perhaps better than any country the problem of using foreign debt to finance current consumption as it did to feed a starving population during the interwar years. The excessive debt undermined the fledgling Weimar Republic, giving rise to Hitler. Trumps trade policy appears incoherent, as is much of the criticism. Progressives still argue for globalism and internationalism while conservatives and libertarians are hung up on Ricardian theory of comparative advantage in international trade and the accounting identity of the trade and capital balance.

    The problem isn’t global trade per se, but progressive policies that repress national saving and domestic labor and capital productivity while growing the administrative state. National boundaries still matter. In the EU the single currency zone has destabilized previously relatively stable prosperous countries, threatening political and economic collapse. The relationship between the U.S. and China reflects a similar dynamic: the willingness to accept American debt has kept the dollar from falling and trade adjusting. China holds over trillion dollars of debt backed by taxpayers, and was the biggest foreign funder of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac during the sub-prime lending bubble. Progressives argued that we would grow out of this debt, but simultaneously and inconsistently deny that the failure to grow during the Obama Administration reflected economic repression but “secular stagnation” – that capitalist innovation has run its course. If so, we are doomed when countries attempt to collect.

    Thus far the main part of the Trump agenda, the tax reform and regulatory roll back – against universal Democratic opposition and condemnation – appears to be working. Economic growth per capita has picked up, unemployment is the lowest since the turn of the century, and business investment net of depreciation is rising from historic lows. But it is way too early to declare success. China entered the WTO without meeting the minimum requirements for intellectual property protection or reciprocity, a Clinton Administration oversight. Fixing the former should be uncontroversial. Reciprocity insures that the most competitive – not the most subsidized – win. Subsidies may benefit American consumers temporarily, but the dislocations are costly and overconsumption dangerous, the debt leading to contemporary “gunboat diplomacy” to settle debts. A reciprocal tariff is a consumption tax, not irrational to consider under those circumstances.

    Progressive efforts to Impeach President Trump: the Totalitarian Administrative State Strikes Back

    Yet since the election, some progressive Democrats have been pushing for impeachment on grounds of Russian collusion and obstruction of justice, although no evidence has yet been produced of that after two years of investigation.

    One thoughtful progressive commentator dismisses these grounds, arguing that the real grounds for impeachment are the “threats Trumpism poses to democracy and rule of law.” If true, those would indeed be grounds for impeachment but he doesn’t define Trumpism or provide evidence. The many articles in the progressive media can be summarized thus: Trump is tweeting against the administrative state agents that are out to get him.

    Libertarians and Republican conservatives have argued that progressives have been undermining liberty and the rule of law for over a century to create the administrative state, obfuscating their agenda by manipulating words to mean the opposite of their historical meaning. Trump’s Court appointments are intended to reverse that trend. Statism is usually associated with one-party faux democracy to prevent state power from turning against the entrenched interests with a change of government. Trump ran against the progressive new world order, arguing to “put America first.” The Democrats didn’t think Trump had any chance to win. This seems the more compelling reason for their impeachment efforts. The anti-Trump organized hysteria bears a marked resemblance to the largely Soros funded Republican and Democratic efforts to ignite the democratic color revolutions in the former Soviet states described by F.William Engdahl in Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order (2009).

    This isn’t about Trump tweets. It’s a battle for the commanding heights.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Capitalism, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Conservatism, Crony Capitalism, Economics & Finance, History, Leftism, Libertarianism, Political Philosophy, Politics, Public Finance, Taxes, Tradeoffs, USA | No Comments »

    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 »

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    Posted in Conservatism, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, History, International Affairs, Korea, Obama, Politics, Trump, War and Peace | 26 Comments »

    An American Version of the Habsburg Empire?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Discuss

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

    DC-3 plus 82

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

     

     

    June 7, 1936 marked the first delivery of one of the most important airplane types ever developed:  the Douglas DC-3, which has been called “the Model T of aviation.”

    The story of the DC-3 begain with a very long telephone conversation between the heads of American Airlines and Douglas Aircraft.   AA had been conducting coast-to-coast overnight sleeper service using Curtiss Condor II biplanes, and CR Smith of American wanted a more advanced aircraft for this service. Douglas Aircraft was then fully occupied with production of DC-2s (which were too small for sleeper berths) and Donald Douglas was reluctant to undertake the project.  He was persuaded of the merits of the project over the course of a 2-hour phone call, the bill for which came to something like $5400 in today’s money.

    The DC-3 could accommodate 14-16 passengers with berths–see this promotional film–or, alternatively, 21 passengers in a seating-only configuration, which was the more common arrangement.  The type quickly became a huge success.  According to Delta, by 1940 the DC-3 carried 80% of the world’s airline traffic. Thousands of DC-3s (under the military designation C-47) were built in support of the Allied effort in WWII, and after the war a high proportion of these found their way into passenger and freight service.

    Perhaps the best way of discussing the characteristics of the DC-3 is in the context of a walkaround and flight.  (I’ve had two opportunities to fly DC-3s with instructors, the first in 2006 and the most recent in 2017)

    The most noticeable thing about a DC-3 on the ground is its nose-high attitude: this is a tailwheel airplane, whereas most planes today have a nosewheel.  The tailwheel is better for operations on grass and other unpaved strips, but it does make ground handling and landings a little more tricky.

    The airplane has two engines…a few years prior to its introduction, three-engine airplanes had been the thing for passenger traffic, the theory being that the loss of one engine in that case would represent only a 33% loss in total power rather than 50%.  Eliminating the third engine (in the nose) reduced noise and vibration, but required that there be enough reserve power for single-engine flight to be feasible.

    The wings have a noticeable sweepback.  This has nothing whatsoever to do with supersonic or near-supersonic aerodynamics, but was done for reasons of balance.  Wing construction used a stressed-skin approach with a cellular, ‘honeycomb’ internal structure.

    Entering via the rear passenger door, you walk up a fairly steep inclination to get to either a passenger seat or to the cockpit.  (Douglas devoted considerable attention to ensuring that the passenger seats were comfortable, and also to soundproofing the airplane as much as possible.) Pilot and copilot seats are also reasonably comfortable . Electrical switches are on the overhead panel, engine controls in the center:  prop, throttle, and mixture.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, History, Russia, Transportation, War and Peace | 18 Comments »

    June 6, 1944

    Posted by David Foster on 6th June 2018 (All posts by )

    Neptunus Lex:  The liberation of France started when each, individual man on those landing craft as the ramp came down – each paratroop in his transport when the light turned green – made the individual decision to step off with the only life he had and face the fire.

    American Digest:  A walk across a beach in Normandy

    Don Sensing points out that success was by no means assured:  The pivot day of history

    A collection of D-day color photos from Life Magazine

    See Bookworm’s post from 2012, and Michael Kennedy’s photos from 2007

    The Battle of Midway took place from June 4 through June 7, 1942. Bookworm attended a Battle of Midway commemoration event in 2010 and also in 2011: Our Navy–a sentimental service in a cynical society.

    See also  Sgt Mom’s History Friday post from 2014.

    General Electric remembers the factory workers at home who made victory possible.  Also, women building airplanes during WWII, in color and the story of the Willow Run bomber plant.

    A very interesting piece on  the radio news coverage of the invasion

    Before D-day, there was Dieppe

    Transmission ends

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    Posted in Europe, France, History, USA, War and Peace | 12 Comments »

    A Most Unusual Protest Song

    Posted by David Foster on 5th June 2018 (All posts by )

    …from the 1960s.

    P F Sloan, When the Wind Changes

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    Posted in Europe, History, Human Behavior, Music, Russia, USA, Video | 8 Comments »

    THE DEEP STATE CIVIL WAR AND THE COUP D’ETAT AGAINST PRESIDENT TRUMP

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 20th May 2018 (All posts by )

    In case you all had not noticed, a -LOT- of what is going on in the news between the Deep State and Pres. Trump here in the USA is a intra-Deep State factional Civil War over Iran.

    In short — It’s Iran, STUPID!

    This can be shown via the fact that the Obama “Iran Nuclear Deal” faction used the full powers of the FISA counter-intelligence to ram the Iran deal through Congress in 2015. (See the text immediately below and the Tablet on-line magazine link to their April 2017 article on the subject)

    In a December 29, 2015 article, The Wall Street Journal described how the Obama administration had conducted surveillance on Israeli officials to understand how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials, like Ambassador Ron Dermer, intended to fight the Iran Deal. The Journal reported that the targeting “also swept up the contents of some of their private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups.”

    .

    and

    .

    The reason the prior abuse of the foreign-intelligence surveillance apparatus is clear only now is because the Russia campaign has illuminated it. As The New York Times reported last month, the administration distributed the intelligence gathered on the Trump transition team widely throughout government agencies, after it had changed the rules on distributing intercepted communications. The point of distributing the information so widely was to “preserve it,” the administration and its friends in the press explained—“preserve” being a euphemism for “leak.” The Obama team seems not to have understood that in proliferating that material they have exposed themselves to risk, by creating a potential criminal trail that may expose systematic abuse of foreign-intelligence collection.

    Now you know why General Flynn was under counter-intelligence surveillance by the Asst. AG Sally Yates at the DoJ and Andrew McCabe at FBI Counter-Intelligence in 2015.

    The Obama Administration was afraid ex-Defense Intelligence Agency head Gen Flynn would be called to testify before Congress about how CIA Chief Brennen and DNI Clapper were cooking the intelligence books on Iran and ISIS.

    It turned out the illegal FISA surveillance by the Obama Administration got enough dirt on Congressional leaders to prevent that from happening.

    The Deep State’s Iran Deal factional plans might have worked if Trump had lost…but he didn’t.

    Everything regards the spying on the Trump campaign and attempted coup d’etat by special council/lawfare/impeachment against President Trump is about hiding the facts of that Iran Nuclear Deal from the American people and law enforcement.

    But while the Obama/Iran Nuclear Deal faction was the largest and strongest Deep State faction…it wasn’t the only one.

    Pres. Trump has the anti-Iran Deep State faction on his side as well — which is mainly uniformed US military intelligence, see Gen Flynn and Adm Mike Rogers formally head at NSA — with a foreign intervention in the form of Saudi Arabia, the Israeli Mossad and Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu on Trump’s side of the ledger.

    Some in the the ‘coup supporting media’ would argue that this gets into fine shades of “what is treason” regards President Trump.

    This sort of argument  ignores the fact that the Obama/Iran Nuclear Deal Deep State faction — the DoJ, FBI, CIA, the State Department and a small faction in the senior civil service at the Defense Department — had the support of the EU political and IC elites as well as Iran’s Mullah’s & the Moslem Brotherhood in ramming home the Iran deal.  And that they

    1. Launched FBI Operation Crossfire Hurricane which;
    2. Illegally used Stefan Halper as a ‘Agent Provocateur’ to tag Trump campaign officials with the FISA tag of ‘Foreign intelligence asset’ to;
    3. Use the full powers of the Federal government to spy on the Trump for President campaign,  and government, plus
    4. Has had Asst. A.G. Rosenstein appoint Special Council Mueller and delegate to him — quite illegally mind you — full authority to conduct on-going FISA surveillance in a criminal investigation against US citizens.

    IMO, the bottom line up front here is that the Trump faction was and remains “constitutional” in its actions — his faction won an election and is following legal procedure.

    The legal terms of art for  “Iran Nuclear Deal” Deep State faction efforts engaged in to date are an ongoing seditious conspiracy to violate both the Trump Campaign and Trump Administration’s civil rights “Under color of Law” in order to overturn the results of the 2016 election.

    The short form for that is the Iran Nuclear Deal faction the Deep State are attempting a Coup d’etat.

    It gets worse.

    Whether or not President Trump finally wins over the Obama faction and takes down the Iranian Mullah’s.  The Obama’s Deep State Faction has done deep, lasting and permanent “Gramscian damage” (See link: http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=260  for an explanation of the term) to the American Republic, because they attempted a Coup De Etat against the tradition of peaceful succession of executive political power.

    We can no longer take for granted peaceful opposing political party transitions of power in the American political system.

     

    Posted in America 3.0, Americas, Big Government, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Culture, Current Events, History, Law Enforcement, Leftism, Miscellaneous, National Security, USA | 27 Comments »

    The Worst Day At Work, Ever

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

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

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

    Posted in Americas, Book Notes, Diversions, History, USA, War and Peace | 19 Comments »

    A Brief History…

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

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

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

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

    A Neglected but Significant Anniversary

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

    (rerun, with updates)

    ‘When the crocus blossoms,’ hiss the women in Berlin,
    ‘He will press the button, and the battle will begin.
    When the crocus blossoms, up the German knights will go,
    And flame and fume and filthiness will terminate the foe…
    When the crocus blossoms, not a neutral will remain.’

    (A P Herbert, Spring Song, quoted in To Lose a Battle, by Alistair Horne)

    On May 10, 1940, German forces launched an attack against Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Few people among the Allies imagined that France would collapse in only six weeks: Churchill, for example, had a high opinion of the fighting qualities of the French army. But collapse is what happened, of course, and we are still all living with the consequences. General Andre Beaufre, who in 1940 was a young Captain on the French staff, wrote in 1967:

    The collapse of the French Army is the most important event of the twentieth century.

    If it’s an exaggeration, it’s not much of one. If France had held up to the German assault as effectively as it was expected to do, World War II would probably have never reached the nightmare levels that it in fact did reach. The Hitler regime might well have fallen. The Holocaust would never have happened. Most likely, there would have been no Communist takeover of Eastern Europe.

    This campaign has never received much attention in America; it tends to be regarded as something that happened before the “real” war started. Indeed, many denizens of the Anglosphere seem to believe that the French basically gave up without a fight–which is a considerable exaggeration given the French casualties of around 90,000 killed and 200,000 wounded. But I think the fall of France deserves serious study, and that some of the root causes of the defeat are scarily relevant to today’s world.

    First, I will very briefly summarize the campaign from a military standpoint, and will then shift focus to the social and political factors involved in the defeat.

    France’s border can be thought of in terms of three sectors. In the north, the border with with Belgium. Early French military planning had been based on the idea of a strong cooperative relationship with Belgium: however, in the years immediately prior to 1940, that country had adopted a position of neutrality and had refused to do any joint military planning with France. In the south, the border was protected by the forts of the Maginot Line (the southern flank of which was anchored by mountainous territory bordering on Switzerland and Italy.) In between these regions was the country of the Ardennes. It was heavily wooded and with few roads, and the French high command did not believe it was a feasible attack route for strong forces–hence, the Maginot Line had not been extended to cover it, and the border here was protected only with field fortifications.

    The French plan was based on the assumption that the main German attack would come through Belgium. Following the expected request from the Belgian government for assistance, strong French forces were to advance into that country and counterattack the Germans. In the Maginot and Ardennes sectors, holding actions only were envisaged. While the troops manning the Maginot were of high quality, the Ardennes forces included a large proportion of middle-aged reservists, and had been designated as lower-class units.

    The opening moves seemed to fit expectations. The Germans launched a powerful attack through Belgium, and the Belgian government made the expected requests for help. Andre Beaufre:

    Doumenc sent me at once to Vincennes to report to General Gamelin (the French supreme commander). I arrived at 6.30 AM at the moment when the order had just been given for the huge machine to go into operation: the advance into Belgium. Gamelin was striding up and down the corridor in his fort, humming, with a pleased and martial air which I had never seen before. It has been said since that he expected defeat, but I could see no evidence of it at the time.

    There was heavy fighting in Belgium…but the German attack on this country had served to mask their real point of maximum effort. Early in the morning of the 13th, it became clear that massive German forces were moving through the Ardennes, which had turned out to not be so impassable after all. A massive German air attack paved the way for a crossing of the Meuse river and the capture of the town of Sedan. French officers were stunned by the speed of the German advance–they had expected delays while the Germans brought up heavy artillery, not understanding that dive bombers could play a role similar to that traditionally played by artillery. And the bombing was psychologically-shattering, especially for inexperienced troops. The famous historian Marc Bloch had been exposed to many artillery barrages while fighting in the First World War: in reflecting on his service in 1940, he observed that he found aerial bombing much more frightening even though it was, objectively, probably less dangerous. (Bloch later joined the Resistance and was captured by the Germans and shot.)

    The French command never really recovered from the unexpected thrust through the Ardennes and the fall of Sedan. Beginning on May 27, the British evacuated their troops at Dunkirk. On June 14, Prime Minister Paul Reynaud resigned. He was succeeded by Philippe Petain, a hero of the First World War, who immediately sought terms with the Germans. The “armistice”–basically a surrender–was signed on June 20. By Hitler’s order, it was signed in the same railway car where the armistice of 1918 had been signed. Hitler was present in person for the ceremony: William Shirer was fifty yards away, and was studying his expression through binoculars: It is afire with scorn, anger, hate, revenge, triumph.

    Many military factors were involved in the defeat–obsolete doctrine on armored forces, inadequate use of radio communications, a strange and cumbersome military organization structure. But the roots of the 1940 debacle are not to be found only–or perhaps even primarily–in strictly military matters. A major role was played by certain characteristics of French society and politics of the time–and some of these factors are spookily similar to some of the things that are going on in America today.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Britain, Europe, France, Germany, History, War and Peace | 24 Comments »

    180 Years of Transatlantic Steam

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd April 2018 (All posts by )

    On April 8, 1838, the steamship Great Western..the first steamship to be purpose-built for the transatlantic passenger traffic…left Bristol for New York City. Four days earlier, though, another steamship, the Sirius, had left Cork for the same destination. Sirius had not been designed for the Atlantic run; it was a small channel steamer which had been chartered by the rivals of Great Western’s owners. This competitive enterprise had encountered delays in the construction of their own Atlantic liner, the British Queen, and had chartered Sirius to keep Great Western from scoring a win in the PR battle. Sirius did arrive at New York first, on April 23, but Great Western came in only 12 hours later…its crossing of a little more than 15 days was the fastest ever from England to America.

    There were earlier crossings that had been at least partly steam-powered: the American ship Savannah in 1819 (which actually used only sails for most of the voyage), and the Dutch Curacao and the Canadian Royal William, which made their crossings in 1827 and 1833 respectively. But it was the Great Western vs Sirius race which marked the beginning of steam passenger and mail service across the Atlantic.

    The paddle wheels and auxiliary sailing rigs of the early steamers gave way to screw propellers and total reliance on steam, and reciprocating steam engines were later supplanted by steam turbines…which in turn have now largely been replaced by diesels and in some cases gas turbines. Aircraft carriers and submarines still use steam turbines, though, with the steam generation done by nuclear energy rather than the burning of coal or oil.

    Here’s the British actress Fanny Kemble, writing circa 1882, in annotation of her years-earlier comments about the difficulties and emotional pain caused by slow communications between the continents:

    To those who know the rate of intercourse between Europe and America now, these expressions of the painful sense of distance from my country and friends, under which I suffered, must seem almost incomprehensible,—now, when to go to Europe seems to most Americans the easiest of summer trips, involving hardly more than a week’s sea voyage; when letters arrive almost every other day by some of the innumerable steamers flying incessantly to and fro, and weaving, like living shuttles, the woof and warp of human communication between the continents; and the submarine telegraph shoots daily tidings from shore to shore of that terrible Atlantic, with swift security below its storms. But when I wrote this to my friend, no words were carried with miraculous celerity under the dividing waves; letters could only be received once a month, and from thirty to thirty-seven days was the average voyage of the sailing packets which traversed the Atlantic. Men of business went to and fro upon their necessary affairs, but very few Americans went to Europe, and still fewer Europeans went to America, to spend leisure, or to seek pleasure; and American and English women made the attempt still seldomer than the men. The distance between the two worlds, which are now so near to each other, was then immense.

    (The quote is one of several passages cited in my post Further Fannyisms)

    Also: the ultimate development of the steam-turbine-powered passenger liner was represented by the SS United States. This beautiful ship has so far managed to avoid the the scrapper’s’ torches…the SS United States Conservancy is working to raise sufficient funds to preserve the vessel on an ongoing basis.

    Related: 301 years of steam power

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    Posted in Britain, History, Tech, Tradeoffs, USA | 8 Comments »

    Should Law Yield to a Judge’s Personal Beliefs?

    Posted by David Foster on 14th April 2018 (All posts by )

    Linda Greenhouse, writing about the late federal judge Stephen Reinhardt, also mentions Supreme Court justice William Brennan, and says “Doctrinal purity mattered less to him than extracting even the most gossamer claim to a favorable result.” She evidently sees this as a good thing.

    I’m reminded of something written by Sebastian Haffner, who at the time of the Nazi takeover of Germany was a young lawyer working at the Prussian Supreme Court, the Kammergericht:

    It was strange to sit in the Kammergericht again, the same courtroom, the same seats, acting as if nothing had happened. The same ushers stood at the doors and ensured, as ever, that the dignity of the court was not disturbed. Even the judges were for the most part the same people. Of course, the Jewish judge was no longer there. He had not even been dismissed. He was an old gentleman and had served under the Kaiser, so he had been moved to an administrative position at some Amtsgericht (lower court). His position on the senate was taken by an open-faced, blond young Amtsgerichtsrat, with glowing cheeks, who did not seem to belong among the grave Kammergerichtsrats…It was whispered that in private the newcomer was something high up in the SS.

    The new judge didn’t seem to know much about law, but asserted his points in a “fresh, confident voice.”

    We Refendars, who had just passed our exams, exchanged looks while he expounded. At last the president of the senate remarked with perfect politeness, ‘Colleague, could it be that you have overlooked paragraph 816 of the Civil Code?’ At which the new high court judge looked embarrassed…leafed through his copy of the code and then admitted lightly, ‘Oh, yes. Well, then it’s just the other way around.’ Those were the triumphs of the older law.

    There were, however, other cases–cases in which the newcomer did not back down…stating that here the paragraph of the law must yield precedence; he would instruct his co-judges that the meaning was more important than the letter of the law…Then, with the gesture of a romantic stage hero, he would insist on some untenable decision. It was piteous to observe the faces of the older Kammergerichtsrats as this went on. They looked at their notes with an expression of indescribable dejection, while their fingers nervously twisted a paper-clip or a piece of blotting paper. They were used to failing candidates for the Assessor examination for spouting the kind of nonsense that was now being presented as the pinnacle of wisdom; but now this nonsense was backed by the full power of the state, by the threat of dismissal for lack of national reliability, loss of livelihood, the concentration camp…They begged for a little understanding for the Civil Code and tried to save what they could.

    “The meaning was more important than the letter of the law”…Linda Greenhouse’s approving gloss on Brennan’s judicial strategy is in my view uncomfortably close to the methodology of this newly-assigned Kammergerichtrat. I am not saying, of course, that Greenhouse is a Nazi; I am, however, saying that the judicial interpretation approach that she prefers is highly dangerous.

    (I discussed Haffner’s experiences at the Kammergericht, and their relevance to American today, in 2013 at Chicago Boyz, where an interesting comment thread developed)

    Also highly dangerous: the attitudes and behavior of those CUNY law students…law students, mind you…who recently tried to shout down a talk being given by law professor Josh Blackman. See also Blackman’s own article about his experience at CUNY.

    The mainstream of the Democratic Party and its supporting media has gone very far in the directions of legislation by the judiciary, and is moving rapidly toward the approval of politics by mob action. The prospect of Democratic control of Congress and/or the Presidency…even of Democratic dominance following a crippling of the Trump presidency…should be absolutely terrifying to all who value American institutions.

    Haffner’s memoir is an important and well-written document; I reviewed it here.

    (The above was also posted at Ricochet, in slightly different form; so far, it is only on the Member feed)

    Posted in History, Law, Media, Political Philosophy | 15 Comments »

    History Friday: The Deathly Wood

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 30th March 2018 (All posts by )

    (The historic WWI Battle of Belleau Wood is a part of the background in A Half Dozen of Luna City … and for your edification – an essay on it, which will feature in the latest Luna City chronicle.)

    1918 was not the year that the 19th century died; died in all of its boundless optimisms and earnest faith in advancement of the human condition. For Europe – cynical, cultured, hyper-superior old Europe – that could be said to happened two years earlier, along the Somme, at Verdun, in the tangled hell of barbed wire, poisoned gas and toxic, clay-like mud, the burnt ruins of the centuries-old Louvain university and it’s priceless library, destroyed by German ‘frightfulness’ tactics in the heat of their first offensive. Perhaps the 19th century died as early as 1915. It depended on which front, of course, and the combatants involved, still standing on their feet, but wavering like punch-drunken, exhausted pugilists. One may readily theorize that only blood-drenched enmity kept them propped up, swinging futilely at each other, while the lists of casualties from this or that offensive filled page after page of newsprint; all in miniscule typeface, each single name – so small in print, yet a horrific, tragic loss for a family and community hundreds of miles from the Front.

    All this was different for Americans, of course; sitting on the sidelines, gravely concerned, yet publicly dedicated to neutrality, and firmly at first of the conviction that Europe’s affairs were not much of Americas’ business. But softly, slowly, slowly, softly – American sympathies swung towards the Allies, even though there were enough first- and second-generation Americans among German and Irish immigrants to have swung American public opinion among non-Anglo or Francophile elements towards maintaining a continued neutrality. After all, it was a war far, far, away, and nothing much to do with us … at first. But events conspired; the brutality of the Huns in Belgium (documented by American newspapers), unrestricted submarine warfare which extended to American shipping (and, inevitably, American casualties), and finally, the publication of the Zimmerman Telegram – and in the spring of 1917, President Wilson formally requested of Congress that a declaration of war on Imperial Germany be considered and voted upon. Said declaration was passed by an overwhelming margin, and by summer of that year, American troops were arriving in France – first in a trickle, then a flood.
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    Posted in France, Germany, History, Military Affairs | 32 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.
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    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Diversions, History | 14 Comments »

    Catalist, “The 480,” and The Real 480

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

    (In the light of the Cambridge Analytica revelations and controversy. I thought this 2014 post might be due for a rerun)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Elections, History, Human Behavior, Marketing, Obama, Politics, Polls, Predictions, Trump, USA | 14 Comments »

    Book Review: The Year of the French (rerun)

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

    The Year of the French, by Thomas Flanagan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, France, History, Ireland | 1 Comment »

    Po nan Jwèt la: Asymétri Kache nan Lavi Chak Jou

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 16th March 2018 (All posts by )

    Taleb, Nassim N., Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life. New York City: Random House, 2018.

    NB: precisely because I regard Taleb as a national treasure and have considerable respect for his work, I am not going to pull punches here. I get to do this because I have … skin in the game, and not only in Haiti[1] (where I wrote this post over the past ten days, thus the Kreyòl Ayisyen title), but in a couple-three moderately hair-raising situations back in KC, which I will relate when appropriate. Which might be never; see Matthew 6:1-4 (cited by Taleb on page 186).

    Getting this out of the way—buy this book, read it, and recommend it to others. I say this very much irrespective of what might be called the Manifold-Taleb delta, which is not altogether trivial, as I will explain in some detail—again, as a sign of respect—below. Immediately below, in fact.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Bioethics, Book Notes, Capitalism, Ebola, Education, Entrepreneurship, Environment, History, Human Behavior, Islam, Japan, Libertarianism, Miscellaneous, National Security, Political Philosophy, Russia, Space, Systems Analysis, Terrorism | 17 Comments »

    Seth Barrett Tillman: How My Next Academic Article Begins

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

    Since 2008, I have argued in multiple publications that the Foreign Emoluments Clause’s Office-language (and closely similar language in other constitutional provisions) reaches only appointed federal officers, and not any elected federal officials, including the presidency. My position has not gone entirely unnoticed; indeed, it has even occasioned some firm and thoughtful opposition. My goal in this Article is not to illustrate the full spectrum of views opposing my position on the subject. There are far too many such views—many of which contradict one another—many of which (do not appear to) have gone through any sort of independent review process, by student editors, by peer review, or otherwise. Instead, my more modest goal here is to illustrate how deeply idiosyncratic some of these views are—not merely in their conclusions, but more importantly in their broad methodological approach.

    Read the entire post.

    Posted in History, Law, Politics, Trump | Comments Off on Seth Barrett Tillman: How My Next Academic Article Begins

    A French Village: Complete Series Now Available

    Posted by David Foster on 18th February 2018 (All posts by )

    I’ve previously mentioned this series, set in the (fictional) French town of Villeneuve during the years of the German occupation and afterwards.  It is simply outstanding – one of the best television series I have ever seen.  The program ran from 2009-207 on French TV, and all the seasons are now available in the US, with subtitles. Having now watched the whole thing, my very positive opinion of the series is sustained.

    Daniel Larcher is a physician who also serves as deputy mayor, a largely honorary position. When the regular mayor disappears after the German invasion, Daniel finds himself mayor for real. His wife Hortense, a selfish and emotionally-shallow woman, is the opposite of helpful to Daniel in his efforts to protect the people of Villaneuve from the worst effects of the occupation while still carrying on his medical practice. Daniel’s immediate superior in his role as mayor is Deputy Prefect Servier, a bureaucrat mainly concerned about his career and about ensuring that everything is done according to proper legal form.

    The program is ‘about’ the intersection of ultimate things…the darkest evil, the most stellar heroism….with the ‘dailyness’ of ordinary life, and about the human dilemmas that exist at this intersection. Should Daniel have taken the job of mayor in the first place?…When is it allowable to collaborate with evil, to at least some degree, in the hope of minimizing the damage? Which people will go along, which will resist, which will take advantage? When is violent resistance…for example, the killing by the emerging Resistance of a more or less random German officer…justified, when it will lead to violent retaliation such as the taking and execution of hostages?

    Arthur Koestler has written about ‘the tragic and the trivial planes’ of life. As explained by his friend, the writer and fighter pilot Richard Hillary:

    “K has a theory for this. He believes there are two planes of existence which he calls vie tragique and vie triviale. Usually we move on the trivial plane, but occasionally in moments of elation or danger, we find ourselves transferred to the plane of the vie tragique, with its non-commonsense, cosmic perspective. When we are on the trivial plane, the realities of the other appear as nonsense–as overstrung nerves and so on. When we live on the tragic plane, the realities of the other are shallow, frivolous, frivolous, trifling. But in exceptional circumstances, for instance if someone has to live through a long stretch of time in physical danger, one is placed, as it were, on the intersection line of the two planes; a curious situation which is a kind of tightrope-walking on one’s nerves…I think he is right.”

    In this series, the Tragic and the Trivial planes co-exist…day-to-day life intermingles with world-historical events. And the smallness of the stage…the confinement of the action to a single small village….works well dramatically, for the same reason that (as I have argued previously) stories set on shipboard can be very effective.

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    Posted in France, Germany, History, Human Behavior, War and Peace | 10 Comments »

    Seth Barrett Tillman: How My Next Academic Paper Ends: The Way Forward

    Posted by Jonathan on 16th February 2018 (All posts by )

    First, the commentators above (along with other commentators) believe their position carries a strong presumption of correctness (if not certitude), that it is my duty to displace that presumption, and that they will be the judges if I have carried that burden. Certainly, I have never agreed to such terms for this debate. Nor should I. The text of the Constitution does not expressly state that the Foreign Emoluments Clause applies to the President. The text of the Constitution does not expressly define the scope of the Constitution’s “Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States]” language. The Supreme Court has had no occasion to address the scope of the clause or the meaning of the clause’s operative language (or even the scope of similar language in other clauses.). As educated generalists who have chosen to recently inject themselves into this debate, their opinions should get a hearing. I would add: so should mine. And since, what is involved here is a debate between opinions lacking firm judicial support, our divergent ideas (and we) meet as equals. I add that the Legal Historians are supporting the plaintiffs in active litigation. Generally, in civil litigation, the burden of proof, production, and persuasion falls on the plaintiff, not on the defendant.
     
    Second, it is time for my intellectual opponents to be fair. Claims that they have made that they know or now know to be incorrect should be withdrawn or revised. Claims that they have made asserting the existence of documentary support, should be supported, and promptly, with actual documents—or else the claims should be withdrawn. If they have to go through this process repeatedly, they might ask themselves if their position (and expertise) is really as strong as they have led themselves and others to believe.
     
    Third, it is time for my intellectual opponents to be forthcoming in regard to an improved debate and debate atmosphere—an atmosphere rooted in mutual respect and goodwill…

    Read the whole thing.

    Posted in History, Law, Politics, Trump | Comments Off on Seth Barrett Tillman: How My Next Academic Paper Ends: The Way Forward

    Attack of the Job-Killing Robots, Part 3

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

    The final months of World War II included the first-ever battle of robots:  on one side, the German V-1 missile and on the other, an Allied antiaircraft system that automatically tracked the enemy missiles, performed the necessary fire-control computations, and directed the guns accordingly. This and other wartime projects greatly contributed to the understanding of the feedback concept and the development of automatic control technology.  Also developed during the war were the first general-purpose programmable digital computers: the Navy/Harvard/IBM Mark I and the Army/MIT ENIAC…machines that, although incredibly limited by our presented-day, standards were at the time viewed with awe and often referred to as ‘thinking machines.’

    These wartime innovations in feedback control and digital computation would soon have enormous impact on the civilian world.

    This is one in a continuing series of posts in which I attempt to provide some historical context for today’s discussions of automation and its impact on jobs and society…a context of which people writing about this topic often seem to have little understanding.

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    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, History, Tech | 10 Comments »

    Civil war or just uncivil society?

    Posted by Margaret on 8th February 2018 (All posts by )

    It seems that at least once a week I read an article predicting that the extreme political divisions in our country will lead to an actual civil war. “The country hasn’t been this divided since 1860!” is a common refrain.

    Divided, yes. But leading to war? I don’t think so.

    Those who actually know all about our Civil War may wish to correct me; I admit that discussion of this topic in my Georgia high school was so frequent and so prolonged that I did my best to sink into a coma whenever the subject came up. Even so, I think I grasped a few general points about that war which differentiate it from the present situation.

    (1) The war was driven by one major moral/economic dispute, even if the two sides described it differently. (North: “Slavery is wrong.” South: “Our economy depends on slavery. Besides, states’ rights.”)
    (2) The opposing sides were (mostly) geographically divided.
    (3) There were, on both sides, people who were willing to actually fight with something more lethal than a sarcastic Tweet.

    Now look at the current mess.
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    Posted in Civil Society, History, Leftism | 83 Comments »

    Josh Blackman and Seth Barrett Tillman: The Emoluments Clauses Litigation, Part 6: Are the Claims Against the President in his Official or Individual Capacity?

    Posted by Jonathan on 6th February 2018 (All posts by )

    Arguments progress:

    On January 25, 2018, Judge Messitte held oral arguments in Greenbelt, Maryland. Blackman attended. The very first question from the bench referenced our amicus briefs, and asked the parties to address whether the Maryland Complaint concerns actions taken in the President’s official or individual capacity. Over the course of nearly five hours of argument time, counsel for the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia maintained that Trump’s receipt of (purported) emoluments concerned his official capacity. But once confronted by skeptical questions from the bench, Plaintiffs volunteered to amend their complaint to bring claims against the President in his individual capacity.
     
    Judge Messitte did not order the Plaintiffs to amend their complaint, but during the hearing, counsel for Plaintiffs represented that they would do so in due course, presumably through a Rule 15 motion. At the hearing, the Justice Department did not indicate that it would oppose such a motion—rather, the Government suggested that it would file a new motion to dismiss. In short, the Maryland action, which had been set either to be dismissed or to proceed onto discovery, now sits in limbo awaiting a Rule 15 motion to amend, a new round of briefing on a motion to dismiss (and possibly in regard to the Rule 15 motion too), and, presumably, a new oral argument on the revised motion to dismiss (and, perhaps, also in regard to the Rule 15 motion). Moreover, all Plaintiffs have to do, to move the litigation into its new “path,” the obvious direction it should always have been in, is to change the Complaint’s caption and the 1-page prayer for relief; yet, it is now more than a week later, and still no amended complaint has been filed.

    Read the whole thing.

    Posted in History, Law, Politics, Trump | Comments Off on Josh Blackman and Seth Barrett Tillman: The Emoluments Clauses Litigation, Part 6: Are the Claims Against the President in his Official or Individual Capacity?

    Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?

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

    (I post an archive entry from my Celia Hayes blog, on the eve of the Golden Globes awards, All Hollywood seems to be running about with their hair on fire, casting accusations everywhere, regarding who knew or didn’t about the casting couch, who got an advantage from utilizing the casting couch, and who behaved badly to whom. I’m working on a post about this week’s Trump madness, and the time just got away from me.)

    (Example #1 – William Holden, publicity still)

    There are boys enough in the movies now, all dressed up in costume and mincing around, waving the prop weapons in a manner meant to be intimidating. Generally they look a bit nervous doing so. They have light boyish voices, narrow defoliated chests, delicate chins adorned with a wisp of beard, and sometimes they come across as clever, even charming company for the leading lady or as the wily sidekick to the first name on the bill, but as hard as they try to project mature and solid masculinity they remain boys, all dressed up in costume pretending to be men. Even when they try for a bit of presence, they still project a faintly apologetic air. Imagine Peter Pan in camo BDUs, desert-boots, full battle-rattle and rucksack. It’s a far cry from picturing John Wayne in the same get-up. Where have all the cowboys gone?

    (Example #2 – Robert Mitchum w/Deborah Kerr in “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison“)

    You could not really describe John Wayne as movie-star handsome; neither could you honestly say that Robert Mitchum, Humphrey Bogart, Steve McQueen, Charlton Heston or William Holden were movie-star handsome. (Save perhaps Holden, early on.) They had something more – magnetic physical presence. They owned a room, just by walking into it. They had lived-in faces, especially as they got older, rough-hewn, weathered and individual faces, broad shoulders, strong and capable hands, and total confidence in themselves – even when the plot necessitated a bit of self-doubt.
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    Posted in Arts & Letters, Culture, Current Events, Diversions, Film, History, Media | 15 Comments »

    Seth Barrett Tillman: The Blue Book & the Foreign Emoluments Clause Cases Against the President: Old Questions Answered

    Posted by Jonathan on 31st December 2017 (All posts by )

    In 1792, the Senate directed President Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, to draft a financial statement listing the “emoluments” of “every person holding any civil office or employment under the United States.”[1] Hamilton took more than nine months to draft and submit a response, which spanned some ninety manuscript-sized pages. The report included appointed or administrative personnel in each of the three branches of the federal government, including the Legislative Branch (e.g., the Secretary of the Senate and Clerk of the House and their staffs) and the clerks of the federal courts.[2] But Hamilton’s carefully-worded response did not include the President, Vice President, Senators, or Representatives.[3] The presumptive meaning of this document is that Hamilton accurately responded to the Senate’s precise request: elected officials do not hold office . . . under the United States, and so they were not listed.
     
    Contrary explanations do not hold up…

    Read the rest.

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    Posted in History, Law, Politics, Trump, USA | Comments Off on Seth Barrett Tillman: The Blue Book & the Foreign Emoluments Clause Cases Against the President: Old Questions Answered