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  • Archive for the 'Human Behavior' Category

    Further Musings prompted by Sgt. Mom

    Posted by Ginny on 7th December 2017 (All posts by )

    Another Minnesotan, whose reputation like Keillor’s is pretty tawdry, seems about to be pushed from the Senate. Well, I am not all that sorry. Franken is reputed to be truly obnoxious. I was appalled by his posturing during the questioning of Gorsuch; his first election was shady. But Minnesotans re-elected him. The willingness of the Senate Democrats to discard him may say something about his general unpleasantness but probably a good deal more about their political calculations – recording preening, virtue signaling statements for use later.

    Given his colleagues’ demands, we might remember the first came from Gillibrand. This is the woman who tied herself firmly to the Clintons, both of whose actions toward women were far more despicable than anything Franken has been charged with; on the other hand, she was quite willing to destroy the accused and comfort the accuser in what turned out (as any mature person expected) a hoax (or delusion) by a drama queen with mental problems, mattress babe. She dealt cynically and opportunistically with a girl who needed counseling a good deal more than a seat at Obama’s “State of the Union” address.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Bioethics, Civil Society, Current Events, Human Behavior, Politics | 24 Comments »

    The Fastest-Growing Job Category of the Decade?

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd December 2017 (All posts by )

    In Robert Heinlein’s SF novel Revolt in 2100, American society fallen under the rule of a rigid theocracy.  The protagonist is introduced in the following passage…

    It was cold on the rampart. I slapped my numbed hands together, then stopped hastily for fear of disturbing the Prophet. My post that night was just outside his personal apartments-a post that I had won by taking more than usual care to be neat and smart at guard mount . . . but I had no wish to call attention to myself now.

    I was young then and not too bright-a legate fresh out of West Point, and a guardsman in the Angels of the Lord, the personal guard of the Prophet Incarnate. At birth my mother had consecrated me to the Church and at eighteen my Uncle Absolom, a senior lay censor, had prayed an appointment to the Military Academy for me from the Council of Elders.

    Uncle Absolom:  a senior lay censor…In the real America in 2017, ‘censor’ is no longer a role restricted to the pages of science fiction novels or to a limited military activity in time of war, but is rather becoming a mainstream occupation, and a fast-growing one.

    Facebook, for example, is hiring 3000 people to add to its existing 4500 on the team “reviewing posts with hate speech, crimes, and other harming posts.”  (The illiterate phrasing of the preceding sentence was evidently perpetrated by the professional journalists at TechCrunch, not by FB itself)  YouTube (owned by Google) also employs many people to review videos which are believed to be inappropriate or worse.  There are also programmers and system designers employed in creating and tuning software to facilitate the censorship function, and there are actually startups focused on this area.

    It has often been observed that the number of college administrators is growing much faster than the numbers of college faculty.  A nontrivial number of these are engaged in what are basically censorship functions.  Even in business, the censorship of wrongspeech has become a major function of Human Resources and a consumer of management time.

    There are also plenty of volunteer censors, eager to report people of whose speech they disapprove and get them fired or instigate mob action against them…for example, Lena Dunham, who sent the following Instagram message directed to airline travelers (and possibly flight crews as well)..

    I’m at the airport. And I think people now know, when I’m at the airport, they have to f—ing watch out for me, because I hear and I see all.

    There are multiple reasons for the censorship boom:  (1) With social media, communications that were once private are now semipublic and mediated by the social media company (2) Content that was once created and distributed by a relatively small number of media companies..who in effect conducted their own internal censorship process…is now created by a much larger number of individuals and distributed via social media, especially Twitter (3) Many of the previously-generally-accepted standards of behavior and speech have eroded (4) There appears to be growing hostility toward free speech, driven partly but not entirely by academic theorists  (5) There are a lot of people who are just plain sadists and bullies, and shutting other people down gives them pleasure.  Social media gives them new scope for this activity.

    With regard to (1), the social media companies…especially FB…really do have a dilemma.  There is an obvious public interest in preventing the dissemination of terrorist propaganda and operational plans, and an obvious human interest in responding to desperate cries for help, as with the suicides that were pre-announced on Facebook.  And the semipublic nature of FB communications implies that individual and group posts can have an impact on FB’s brand, whereas phone conversations and emails would have no such impact on the brand of the carrier involved.  Meanwhile, the Leftist orientation of most of these companies, combined with Silicon Valley groupthink, does not tend toward policies that are particularly supportive of free speech.

    With regard to (5), I am reminded of a passage in Goethe’s Faust….Gretchen, after finding that she is pregnant by Faust, is talking with her awful friend Lieschen, who (still unaware of Gretchen’s situation) is licking her chops about the prospect of humiliating another girl (Barbara) who has also become pregnant outside of marriage. Here’s Gretchen, reflecting on her own past complicity in such viciousness:

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

    There’s a lot of this…”sharp enough words like pins to stick in other people’s sins”, combined with the pleasure of preening…in the amateur censors of our day.  And the amateur censors often operate by activating the professional censors.

    See also my post Freedom, the Village, and the Internet.

    Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Media, Society, Tech | 9 Comments »

    Oh, My!

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 30th November 2017 (All posts by )

    Seriously, I am stuck for a reaction to the news this week that both Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor have both been let go, with appropriate force, by their employers for sexual conduct unbecoming and unprofessional in the extreme with women in their respective workplaces. Earlier in the week it was howls for the heads of John Conyers and Al Franken, giving the impression of those gentlemen holding on to their congressional seats by their bare fingertips, while Cokie Roberts confesses that ‘everyone’ knew not to get into an elevator with Congressman Conyers. Jeez Louise, is there anyone in the higher levels of show business, the media and the government who isn’t a total woman-mauling pig? Anyone? And is there anyone in the media specifically charged with covering show biz and politics who isn’t complicit in covering these matters – with a pillow, until they stop moving, in the deathless phrase of Iowahawk? Can we wait until our fearless media fifth-column representatives are cornered like a rat and forced to ‘fess up to deliberately looking the other way? Oh, and thanks, Cokie – for sitting on that bit of intelligence regarding sexual abuse on Capitol Hill. Just couldn’t bear to tear yourself away from the sweet, sweet source of social power in Capitol City, and face the prospect of never being invited to the good cocktail parties again, could you? Between you and Garrison Keillor, I feel like demanding a refund of every single dollar in pledges I ever made to public radio and television. I will keep the Blake’s 7 tee shirt and the La Madelaine cookbook, though. (The tee shirt is trashed, and the cookbook is pretty well-worn.)
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Conservatism, Crime and Punishment, Current Events, Feminism, Human Behavior | 13 Comments »

    Nostalgia Post: Heirloom Dishes

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 22nd November 2017 (All posts by )

    (This essay was originally written more than ten years ago, and is included in the ebook Happy Families; a reminiscence even then of what Thanksgiving was before I left home to join the Air Force. I think I was home with my family for that holiday perhaps four or five years since then. Dad passed away in 2010, Mom is a semi-invalid living with my sister and her family. I don’t know if my sister ever fixes the onions in cheese sauce – I certainly don’t.)

    Fairly early on, Mom and Dad reached a compromise on the question of where the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas would be celebrated: Christmas at our house, and Thanksgiving alternating between the grandparents’ houses: One year at Grannie Jessie and Grandpa Jim’s little white house on South Lotus, the next at Grannie Dodie and Grandpa Al’s in Camarillo. Since Dad was an only child, and Mom an only surviving child, all the hopes of constellation of childless or unmarried great-aunts and uncles were centered on JP, Pippy, Sander and I. We rather basked in the undivided attention, even as we regretted the lack of first cousins; there was Great-Aunt Nan, who was Grandpa Al’s younger sister, and Grannie Dodie’s two brothers, Fred and Bob. Fred had been a sailor on a real sailing ship in his youth and had lady in a frilly skirt tattooed on each forearm, who did the shimmy when he flexed his muscles: he also had children, so he was not invariably with us every Thanksgiving. Great-Uncle Bob was married to Great-Aunt Rose, and her sister Nita lived with them. Rose was frail and genteel, and her sister Nita plump and bossy, but they both had neatly marcelled short hair, in the fashion of the 1920ies, and both smelt deliciously of flower-scented dusting powder when hugged.

    The menu was unvaryingly traditional, no matter if the table was laid out in the screened porch at Grannie Jessie’s, or set up in Grannie Dodie’s dining room and living room. Both of our grandmothers followed pretty much the same recipes for the turkey and bread stuffing, the giblet gravy and mashed potatoes with plenty of milk and butter whipped in. Both of them preferred opening a can of jellied cranberry sauce and letting it schlorp out onto a cut-glass plate, the ripples from the can unashamedly displayed to the world; at Christmas, Mom went as far as making cranberry sauce from a bag of sour fresh cranberries boiled together with sugar, but as far as the grandmothers were concerned, there was a reason that God had invented canned cranberry sauce technology.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Diversions, Holidays, Human Behavior, Humor | 6 Comments »

    What Has Changed – and What Hasn’t?

    Posted by Ginny on 21st November 2017 (All posts by )

    When historians consider the 20th century as it turned into the 21st, what will they find unique. I’m looking forward to others’ opinions. What are deep and permanent changes? What are minor and transient ones? I’ll throw out my opinion, though it isn’t original; Henry Adams posited it as the last century began.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Environment, History, Human Behavior, USA | 31 Comments »

    What’s With Alabama and Other Stories

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 15th November 2017 (All posts by )

    Frankly, the kerfuffle regarding Roy Moore’s alleged dalliances with just barely legal teenage girls four decades ago smacks to this observer as a put-up job by out of-state media and out-of-state politicians of both parties who apparently regard his candidacy for national office as an affront to the Ruling Class. Suspect scribbles in an old school annual and Gloria Allred in full-throated accusatory mode are, as in the words of Gilbert and Sullivan’s character Pooh-Bah, “Merely corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.”
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Current Events, Human Behavior, Media | 44 Comments »

    Discursive Comments Suggested by the Sex life of Judge Moore

    Posted by Ginny on 12th November 2017 (All posts by )

    Sexual predation is real but the potential for another day care scandal – ask the Duke lacrosse team or the frat at Virginia – lies in he said/she said incidents with a political or sexual factor. Accusations encourage prurience and self-righteousness. But often neither the he nor the she lies; if children are vulnerable to suggestion, no less are adults whose perspective from forty years is hazy. We all like plots and prefer to see our selves more positively than others might. Deviations from a truth unknowable today are less rhetorical tricks than a natural desire to create favorable narratives.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Current Events, Feminism, Human Behavior, Media, Politics | 30 Comments »

    Preference Cascade

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

    (Sorry for the lack of posting – I am trying to finalize A Fifth of Luna City, and Lone Star Glory — the follow-up to Lone Star Sons, and the days are just all too short. Herewith a rant about certain recent developments in pop culture for your weekend edification.)

    Just to make it clear, I do not think that the NFL, or the So-Cal based movie-TV-media production industry usually described by the simple designation of ‘Hollywood’ are going to wither up and disappear in a puff of smoke and a puddle of goo like the Wicked Witch when Dorothy threw a bucket of water on her. No, likely the first will be diminished to relative insignificance over the insistence of many players to ‘take a knee’ during the national anthem, after a long train of other actions which increasingly put the well-reimbursed celebrity athletes of the NFL at loggerheads with the audiences in Flyoverlandia who watched games from the stand, or on TV, purchased season tickets, merchandise and premium cable service with the big daddy sports channel, ESPN. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Advertising, Conservatism, Diversions, Feminism, Film, Human Behavior, The Press | 12 Comments »

    Culture, Innovation, Victory, and Defeat

    Posted by David Foster on 21st October 2017 (All posts by )

    (Today being Trafalgar Day, it seems like a good time to rerun this post)

    In 1797, a Spanish naval official named Don Domingo Perez de Grandallana, wrote a thoughtful document on the general subject “why do we keep losing to the British, and what can we do about it?”  His thoughts were inspired by his observations while with the Spanish fleet off Cape St Vincent,  in a battle which was a significant defeat for Spain, and are relevant to a question which is very relevant to us today:

    What attributes of an organization make it possible for that organization to accomplish its mission in an environment of uncertainty, rapid change, and high stress?

    Here are de Grandallana’s key points:

    An Englishman enters a naval action with the firm conviction that his duty is to hurt his enemies and help his friends and allies without looking out for directions in the midst of the fight; and while he thus clears his mind of all subsidiary distractions, he rests in confidence on the certainty that his comrades, actuated by the same principles as himself, will be bound by the sacred and priceless principle of mutual support.

    Accordingly, both he and his fellows fix their minds on acting with zeal and judgement upon the spur of the moment, and with the certainty that they will not be deserted. Experience shows, on the contrary, that a Frenchman or a Spaniard, working under a system which leans to formality and strict order being maintained in battle, has no feeling for mutual support, and goes into battle with hesitation, preoccupied with the anxiety of seeing or hearing the commander-in-chief’s signals for such and such manoeures…

    Thus they can never make up their minds to seize any favourable opportunity that may present itself. They are fettered by the strict rule to keep station which is enforced upon then in both navies, and the usual result is that in one place ten of their ships may be firing on four, while in another four of their comrades may be receiving the fire of ten of the enemy. Worst of all they are denied the confidence inspired by mutual support, which is as surely maintained by the English as it is neglected by us, who will not learn from them.

    The quote is from Seize the Fire, by Adam Nicholson.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, Book Notes, Britain, France, History, Human Behavior, Management, Military Affairs, Society, War and Peace | 19 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Attack of the Robot Bureaucrats

    Posted by David Foster on 20th September 2017 (All posts by )

    (rerun inspired by this story)

    Via Bookworm, here is a truly appalling story from Minnesota. When the fire alarm went off at Como Park High School, a 14-year-old girl was rousted out of the swimming pool, and–dripping wet and wearing only a swimsuit–directed to go stand outside were the temperature was sub-zero and the wind chill made it much worse. Then, she was not allowed to take refuge in one of the many cars in the parking lotbecause of a school policy forbidding students from sitting in a faculty member’s car. As Bookworm notes:

    Even the lowest intelligence can figure out that the rule’s purpose is to prevent teachers from engaging sexually with children.  The likelihood of a covert sexual contact happening between Kayona and a teacherunder the actual circumstances is ludicrous.  The faculty cars were in full view of the entire school.  There was no chance of illicit sexual congress.

    But the whole nature of bureaucratic rules, of course, is to forbid human judgment based on actual context.

    Fortunately for Kayona, her fellow students hadn’t had human decency ground out of them by rules: “…fellow students, however, demonstrated a grasp of civilized behavior. Students huddled around her and some frigid classmates [sic], giving her a sweatshirt to put around her feet. A teacher coughed up a jacket.” As the children were keeping Kayona alive, the teachers were workingtheir way through the bureaucracy.  After a freezing ten minutes, an administrator finally gave permission for the soaking wet, freezing Kayla to set in a car in full view of everybody.

    As Bookworm notes, this sort of thing is becoming increasingly common. In England in 2009, for example, a man with a broken back lay in 6 inches of water, but paramedics refused to rescue him because they weren’t trained for water rescues. Dozens of similar examples could easily be dredged up.

    The behavior of these bureaucrats is very similar to the behavior of a computer program confronted by a situation for which its designers did not explicitly provide. Sometimes the results will be useless, sometimes they will be humorous, often they will be harmful or outright disastrous.

    Last year in Sweden, there was rampant rioting that included the torching of many cars.  The government of Sweden didn’t do a very good job of protecting its citizens and their property from this outbreak of barbarism. Government agents did, however, fulfill their duty of issuing parking tickets…to burned-out cars. Link with picture.  In my post The Reductio as Absurdum of Bureaucratic Liberalism, I said…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Education, Germany, History, Human Behavior, Management, Video | 11 Comments »

    Summer Rerun – Book Review: That Hideous Strength

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

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

    That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Read the rest of this entry »

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

    Informers and Tattle Tales

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 13th September 2017 (All posts by )

    Tattle tale tit,
    Your tongue shall be slit,
    And all the dogs in the town
    Shall have a little bit! – trad. schoolyard taunt

    How bizarre it is to come to a time in these sort-of-United States where certain people who might otherwise have been mistaken for grownups appear to take great pleasure in channeling their inner selves; that of a malicious, sneaky tattle-tale, running to the teacher to inform on their fellow students at every opportunity. We do not — yet — have the equivalent of the East German ‘Stasi’, where half the population eagerly and voluminously informed on the other half. I would have assumed that Americans, young and old, despised tattletales – the adult version every bit as much as the juvenile variety. But we have moved on, it seems. A certain kind of mentality seems bound and determined to sign up as informers even before such volunteers are requested by the authorities in various venues.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, Current Events, Customer Service, Diversions, Human Behavior, Just Unbelievable | 18 Comments »

    Remedial Reading for a ‘New Yorker’ Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Such thoughts are anathema to the Institutional Left.

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

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

    To Save the Union

    Posted by Ginny on 14th August 2017 (All posts by )

    Before the Civil War, the two sides often read different authors, saw different newspapers, read different novels. Some northern works were not easily available in the south and the levels of literacy differed. Of course, today, all is open. We choose to narrow our options: a Fox listener is likely to be a Wall Street Journal reader who begins surfing with Instapundit. A CNN listener is more likely to read the NYTimes and check out HuffPost.

    So, we can speak to each other, but anyone listening to the rhythms of Obama and those of Trump, the voices of the average humanities teacher and of the dirty jobs guy, may well wonder if they would understand. (Though, of course, it is a perspective rather than position – Rowe and Victor Davis Hanson, as academically credentialed as they come, understand each other thoroughly.)

    Listening to Trump’s speech on Charlotte, I heard something reporters didn’t mention. The speech’s rhythms came from an emphasis we’ve heard before: in Trump’s inaugural, in Lincoln’s second inaugural – and blended them in Trump’s less rhythmical, less evocative but direct and emotion-driven voice. It lacks the distance and gravitas of Lincoln, but its purpose is similar.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Culture, Current Events, History, Human Behavior, Speeches, Trump | 40 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

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

    A photo essay about an old mill, by Gerard Van der Leun

    From welder to welding robot programmer

    Showing love through food

    The University Empire

    Privilege hoarding: Harvard and granite countertops

    A 2006 post by Dr Sanity on the Western Left and radical Islam

    Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, 30 years later.

    Cold Spring Shops writes about education, mating, fertility, and work.

    Posted in Academia, Feminism, History, Human Behavior, Islam, Leftism, Photos, Tech | 3 Comments »

    Access, Access, Access

    Posted by Ginny on 3rd July 2017 (All posts by )

    “Access, Access, Access” Rick Perry repeated to Bret Baier. It seemed a grilled candidate’s non sequitur to Baier’s question: weren’t many Texans uninsured? But I was struck by its truth. Insurance is of little use if no doctors take it, no medicine is available, deductibles and premiums are unmanageable. Positive rights – to food, to medicine, to jobs – are not rights. The theory never stands up to experience.

    Perry’s run was brief; now, his task is encouraging access to energy – of all kinds. Trump seemed an example of excess – still is, I guess. But a nation not just energy independent but energy dominant is one empowered, free. And we can free others: a Europe not beholden to Russian oil is a healthier Europe. Neither Trump nor Perry invented fracking nor could Obama stop its success. But this administration respects it, clears the way for its natural flow.

    Access, access, access – how much does access to energy change our lives each day? How many are alive today because of access to energy forms unknown or at least unused 300 years ago? (Without air conditioning, I would have left my husband years ago. Then, again, he might have come with me.) Consider, though, the other extreme: we would be shocked to hear of elderly couples found frozen in the depth of winter, not uncommon in other times and places. How much more food is generated because of cheap energy? How broadly is food distributed?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Energy & Power Generation, Entrepreneurship, Health Care, Human Behavior | 12 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Time Travel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    (Read the entire exchange here.)

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

    The Internet Rewards Crazy (Rerun)

    Posted by Jonathan on 20th May 2017 (All posts by )

    (This is a reposting of a post from five years ago. I think it holds up pretty well. The Internet seems to be changing human society in significant ways which are not yet entirely clear. Perhaps the nature of what is happening will become a topic of systematic research.)

    —-

    Crazy, overconfident; the opposite of the judicious, scientific, skeptical temperament.

    Extreme opinions.

    Stubborn.

    Bombastic.

    The opposite of thoughtful.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Human Behavior, Internet, Society, Systems Analysis | 13 Comments »

    Oxytocin and Conformity – Public and Private

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Read the rest of this entry »

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

    FORT SUMTER,CALIFORNIA

    Posted by Subotai Bahadur on 23rd April 2017 (All posts by )

    Despite appearances, there is no natural law that says history repeats itself. As inventive as we are, there are only a limited number of ways that humans can screw things up. We keep trying to come up with new ways, but until we evolve a new brain with more folds on the surface we will keep repeating ourselves.

    No matter what our race, culture, or creed; whenever you get a lot of people together in a restricted space, some sort of political order and structure arises. Anarchy as a human ideal is about as fact based as the Land of Oz. And even Oz had a Wizard, sundry Witches, Munchkin Mayors, and probably Alpha and Beta Flying Monkeys.

    People have different temperaments; some are more active, some more passive, some are dominant, some less dominant. Then there is the matter of talents, and lacks thereof. People end up being sorted out in various power relationships inside and outside of their family groupings.

    It does not matter what the basis of the structure is, be it feudal, democratic, aristocratic, results oriented merit-based, or who has the biggest club and is more willing to use it on everybody else. They share two things. First, whatever the rules of the game, the social contract if you will, with the exception of a criminal fringe pretty much everybody in the society accepts and supports the rules actively or tacitly. Second, if a sufficient percentage refuses to accept those rules, the whole thing falls apart until a new order arises. The new order may or may not be better than the old, but it will be different than the old.

    Our country and fairly unique society came into existence through that process. This is in part because we diverged demographically from the parent society. Our population was made up of exiles [including self-exiles], ne’er do wells, criminals, religious fringe elements from the British point of view, and a sufficiency of foreign elements to render the population no longer homogeneous with the old country. Couple that with the detail that in Britain there was much higher percentage of the population that had a vested interest in the existing system, and that a relatively small percentage of the minor nobility and none of the higher nobility and royal family bothered to cross the pond.

    What we ended up with is a majority of the population who had no memory of serfdom, were not slaves [Leftist fantasies notwithstanding, slaves were always a minority of the population], and who were used to both being politically and economically free compared to the old country. And the aristocracy here really did not have the pull to make generations of sycophancy attractive and profitable as a lifestyle.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Crime and Punishment, Current Events, Human Behavior | 18 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd April 2017 (All posts by )

    Sarah Hoyt:  Hereditary monarchy, feudalism, and a vicious cycle of crazy….coming soon to a country near you?

    Why Danusha Goska left the Left.  Years of observing, and being subjected to, unpleasant and just-plain-nuts behavior.

    There has been much discussion lately about the increased suicide rate and addictive behavior among white working-class men.  Here’s a collection of comments to a Huffington Post article on that topic.  (via The Arts Mechanical.)

    In her ‘why I left the Left’ post, Danusha described the prevalence of hate, rather than a true desire to make things better, among today’s ‘progressives.’  That hate is very much on display in the Huffington Post comments.

    The past of the future apocalypse:  Stuart Schneiderman reviews some predictions of doom from back in 1970.

    Posted in Environment, Europe, History, Human Behavior, Leftism, USA | 10 Comments »

    The state of state surveillance technology

    Posted by Mrs. Davis on 25th March 2017 (All posts by )

    All the discussion of the Trump “wiretapping” seems to assume that there are targets of surveillance. I thought that had passed away years ago and that NSA was simply capturing all transmissions in the ether, converting them from voice to text and storing both in a searchable data base. While additional land lines may be intercepted, the vast majority of signals are now airborne at some point so the NSA has access to virtually all electronic communication, foreign and domestic. Likewise, they do not, except in extraordinary circumstances, have acres of analysts sitting in cubes listening to conversations in real time. Instead, software constantly crawls the text database for terms of interest or manually input searches, such as the names of everyone on the Trump transition team. This is how team 0bama got the dirt that has been leaked to the press.

    Politics is now under the influence of those at NSA with search authorization much more than the Kremlin, except to the extent they have comparable capabilities. I suspect the Kremlin has comparable intellectual capabilities but less access to transmissions and even less processing bandwidth. Given the acceptance of the loss of privacy by the facebook generation, this can only expand. And to think that only 80 years ago a Secretary of State could opine that “Gentlemen do not read each others mail.” Things have changed, and once again, not for the better.

    Got that off my chest. Now if only the tin foil would stop irritating my scalp.

    Posted in America 3.0, Big Government, Current Events, Human Behavior, Just Unbelievable, Politics, Privacy | 11 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Management and meaningful work, studied via Legos

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

    The Boom/Bust Cycle Isn’t about Emotion

    Posted by Kevin Villani on 27th February 2017 (All posts by )

    My first experience with manias was in the 1950’s. As a pre-schooler, I was dragged along to the Filene’s Basement annual designer dress sale. Thousands of women of all types and sizes pressed against the glass doors opening into the subway station. Within minutes of the doors opening, these “maniacs” cleared all the racks and, holding armfuls of dresses, began stripping to their slips. That’s when I panicked.

    Looking back, those women acted rationally. There was a limited supply of deeply discounted dresses available on a first come basis. They traded among themselves to get the right size and their most desired dress. Buyer’s remorse was cushioned by Filene’s liberal return policy.

    The premise of U.S. financial regulation is that actors within private markets are irrational, but the evidence shows that it’s not maniacal, illogical behavior that sends markets into freefall.

    Great Depression and Recession

    Now in its seventh edition, Manias, Panics and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises, Charles Kindleberger’s seminal work provides the narrative that underlies virtually all public financial protection and regulation: First, the irrational exuberance of individuals transforms into “mob psychology” and fuels an asset bubble. Then, when the exuberance of a few turns to fear, the mob panics and overreacts, causing a crash that brings down both solvent and insolvent financial institutions.

    In his memoir, the former Federal Reserve Bank President and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who was at the epicenter of the last crisis, concluded, “It began with a mania — the widespread belief that devastating financial crises were a thing of the past, that future recessions would be mild, that gravity-defying home prices would never crash to earth.”  

    Most U.S. federal financial regulation originates from the Great Depression and the subsequent introduction of federal deposit insurance provided by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which was established in 1933 to protect “small” savers. All prior state attempts to provide insurance failed. Because there were no effective, non-politicized regulations that could prevent the moral hazard of insured banks and savings institutions taking on excessive risks, an extensive regulatory infrastructure was put in place.

    Rational Actors

    Now, the U.S. has about 100 financial regulators, including those in the U.S. Treasury and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the FDIC, and the Fed. With near-universal deposit insurance, bank runs have become a rarity, but systemic crises have occurred more frequently. It is incontestable that big bubbles eventually burst, asset prices crash, and financial crises ensue. What causes the bubbles to inflate to systemic proportions, and to ultimately burst, is more contentious.

    At the time of Kindleberger’s analysis, individuals were assumed to be rational. The latest edition of his book, written after the 2008 financial crisis, postulates numerous theories about mob psychology (mania) that could lead rational individuals to produce irrational markets, but these ideas are all rather lame.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Business, Capitalism, Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Markets and Trading, Public Finance, Real Estate, Systems Analysis, Tradeoffs | 9 Comments »