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  • Archive for the 'Human Behavior' Category

    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

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

    Memorial Day and the Deprecation of Freedom

    Posted by David Foster on 28th May 2018 (All posts by )

    On Memorial Day, we pause to reflect on those who died to protect our freedom.  But today I have to wonder:  In this year 2018, what proportion of Americans seriously value freedom?

    Recently I encountered a meme on Facebook that went something like this:

    Keep telling yourself that America is the land of the free while the rest of the developed world enjoys universal healthcare, free college, paid maternity leave, and a ton more vacation time than any of us get.

    Nothing there about free speech, freedom of religion, or even freedom to pursue one’s chosen career.  How many people think this way?  I’m afraid it’s a nontrivial number and a growing one.

    I don’t think I even need to post a lot of links in order to demonstrate that individual freedom is being devalued by many in America today:  the evidence is too well known.  There are surveys showing that large numbers of college students view ‘avoiding offense’ as more important than free speech.  There are on-line mob attacks, and sometimes physical-world mob attacks, against those with dissident views.  College students who do hold such dissident views often feel they must keep those views to themselves, and this is increasingly true in the business world as well.  Americans have become tolerant of bullying bureaucrats and of virtually unlimited discretion on the part of prosecutors.  There is surprisingly little concern about the shadow thrown on free speech by the murderous threats (and sometimes actions) of radical Islamists:  draw a cartoon that offends them, and you may have to go into hiding.

    So my question for today is:  What factors are driving the devaluation of freedom in America today, and what can be done about it?

    Click Here To Save $15 at Ammo.com

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Liberties, Crime and Punishment, Human Behavior, Leftism, USA | 27 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading and Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 27th April 2018 (All posts by )

    An MBA student who was raised in Communist China reads Hayek.

    Has Silicon Valley hit peak arrogance?

    Is high testosterone inversely correlated with hedge-fund performance?

    Anti-Semitism and the Democratic Party.

    A manufacturing engineer looks at Tesla manufacturing.  Related:  Elon Musk now thinks his use of robots to build the Model 3 was excessive.

    (I wonder if Musk was aware of the history of Roger Smith and the robots at GM when he established his manufacturing strategy.)

    15 facts about Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party.

     

     

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    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Judaism, Leftism, Tech | 20 Comments »

    Would Arranged Marriages be Better?

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

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

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

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

    Reactions to Stuart’s post?

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

    Does Anybody Here Think This is Really a Good Idea?

    Posted by David Foster on 8th April 2018 (All posts by )

    From a community college catalog:

    STEM for Infants and Toddlers.  In this course we will discuss what STEM means and the importance of STEM exposure in the early years of a child’s development.  We will explore developmentally appropriate strategies and activities to build a foundation in STEM learning for infants and toddlers.

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    Posted in Education, Human Behavior, Tech, USA | 12 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.

    Read the rest of this entry »

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

    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 »

    Media and Politics

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

    Bookworm writes about an ‘art installation’ at the (taxpayer-funded) Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Here’s how the museum describes the exhibition:

    Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s conceptual virtual reality installation CARNE y ARENA (Virtually present, Physically invisible) explores the human condition of immigrants and refugees. Based on true accounts, the superficial lines between subject and bystander are blurred and bound together, allowing individuals to walk in a vast space and thoroughly live a fragment of the refugees’ personal journeys. An immersive installation that reunites frequent collaborators Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lubezki alongside producer Mary Parent and ILMxLAB, CARNE y ARENA is centered around a 6 ½-minute virtual reality sequence for one person that employs state-of-the-art immersive technology to create a multi-narrative light space with human characters.

    Here’s Bookworm:

    That’s a pretty bland, abstract description. A pro-illegal immigration Proggie friend of mine, though, went and was blown away by the wonder of it all. I’ve restated his glowing description in my own less glowing words, but the substance of what he said is still there.

    The exhibition is meant to have you experience through virtual reality (it’s hot and sandy in the exhibition) what a Honduran, El Salvadoran, Merxican or Guatemalan experiences as he or she journeys north through the Sonoran desert to enter America illegally through Arizona. After you’ve signed a waiver, lest the good folks at LACMA make you uncomfortable, and taken off your shoes, your adventure begins.

    Thrill to the experience of having border guards surround you with helicopters and vans to arrest you. Then, having gotten yourself (as promised) hot and covered with sand, you get to see videos of real illegal aliens reenacting their experiences for the camera. (I assume it’s some form of PTSD psychotherapy for illegal aliens.)

    (Much more at the Bookworm link.)  This exhibit is very much in the style of the ‘tunnels of oppression’ which have become popular at America’s colleges and universities.

    I recently ran across a passage from a pioneering media expert, writing in the 1920s, who remarked that social change could never be achieved merely via the written word; most people were inherently lazy (he argued) and were unlikely to pick up a book if it went against their existing views, or even pay enough attention to a leaflet for it have have real impact. So, oratory–the spoken word–was much more effective. BUT, there was a new technology which had still greater advantages:

    The picture in all its forms up to the film has greater possibilities. Here a man needs to use his brains even less; it suffices to look, or at most to read extremely brief texts, and thus many will more readily accept a pictorial presentation than read an article of any length. The picture brings them in a much briefer time, I might almost say at one stroke, the enlightenment which they obtain from written matter only after arduous reading.

    If movies have great potential in forming/changing opinions…and they do…then most likely an immersive experience such as the one at LACMA will be even more powerful.

    Read the rest of this entry »

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    Posted in Human Behavior, Immigration, Media | 5 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 4th March 2018 (All posts by )

    Bioluminescence at American Digest

    Some thoughts on storytelling

    Peer influence among adolescents as a driver of transgenderism

    Sarah Hoyt: “Have most institutions, stores and corporations, most large human organizations, gone stone stupid?”

    3-D printing in the manufacture of GE’s new turboprop engine

    Jim Grant, the well-known observer and analyst of interest rates, asks “what will futurity make of the (so-called) PhD standard that runs our world?” and suggests that, after a major market crash, explanations will include “My generation gave former tenured economics professors discretionary authority to fabricate money and fix interest rates.”

    Reminds me:  Danielle DiMartino Booth, who took a job at the Fed following a successful career on Wall Street, remarked that she did not experience discrimination on account of her sex…but she did face serious prejudice against her on account of not having a PhD.

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Management, Organizational Analysis, Science, USA | 22 Comments »

    Artificial Intelligence and Human Behavior

    Posted by David Foster on 28th February 2018 (All posts by )

    WSJ has an story on the use of artificial intelligence to predict potential suicides.  The article cites a study indicating that “the traditional approach of predicting suicide,” which includes doctors’ assessments, was only slightly better than random guessing.

    In contrast, when 16,000 patients in Tennessee were analyzed by an AI system, the system was able to predict with 80-90% accuracy whether someone would attempt suicide in the next two years, using indicators such as history of using antidepressants and injuries with firearms.  (It would have been nice to see numbers cited for false negatives vs false positives…also, I wonder how nearly the same results could have been achieved by use of traditional statistical methods, without appeal to AI technology.)

    Another approach, which has been tested in Cincinnati schools and clinics, uses an app which records sessions between therapists and patients, and then analyzes linguistic and vocal factors to predict suicide risk.

    Both Apple (Siri) and Facebook have been working to identify potential suicides.  The latter company says that in a single month in fall 2017, its AI system alerted first responders in 100 cases of potential self-harm.  (It doesn’t sound like the system contacts the first responders directly; rather, it prioritizes suspected cases for the human moderators, who then perform a second-level review.)  In one case, a woman in northern Argentina posted “This can’t go on.  From here I say goodbye.”  Within 3 hours, a medical team notified by Facebook reached the woman, and, according to the WSJ article, “saved her life.”

    It seems very likely to me that, in the current climate, attempts will be made to extend this approach into  the prediction of self-harm into the prediction of harm to others, in particular, mass killings in schools.  I’m not sure how successful this will be…the sample size of mass killings is, fortunately. pretty small…but if it is successful, then what might the consequences be, and what principles of privacy, personal autonomy, and institutional responsibility should guide the deployment (if any) of such systems?

    For example, what if an extension of the linguistic and vocal factors analysis mentioned above allowed discussions between students and school guidance counselors to be analyzed to predict the likelihood of major in-school violence?  What should the school, what should law enforcement be allowed to do with this data?

    Does the answer depend on the accuracy of the prediction?  What if people identified by the system will in 80% of cases commit an act of substantial violence (as defined by some criterion),  but at the same time there are 10% false positives (people the system says are likely perpetrators, but who are actually not)?  What if the numbers are 90% accuracy and only 3% false positives?

    Discuss.

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    Posted in Current Events, Human Behavior, Tech | 13 Comments »

    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.

    Read the rest of this entry »

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

    Bonhoeffer on Stupidity and the Public Sphere

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

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who became a leading member of an anti-Nazi conspiracy, wrote the following while he was in prison awaiting execution:

    Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. … The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.

    via Intellectual Takeout

    Posted in Big Government, Deep Thoughts, Germany, Human Behavior, Leftism | 11 Comments »

    Entitled

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 31st December 2017 (All posts by )

    I see by another link on Insty Saturday afternoon that the United Airlines- Sheila Jackson Lee flap has not quite faded away – much as MS Jackson Lee, AKA ‘the Queen’ or ‘Cruella’ Jackson Lee likely wishes it would. I surmise that this bit of congressional bad behavior is still rattling the newshounds and the commentariat for several reasons. The first of these is that ‘Cruella’ is one of the dumber members of Congress. (The honor of the dumbest must go to Hank “Guam Might Tip Over!” Johnson, of whom it might rightfully said – stealing a paraphrase from the late Molly Ivins about another spectacularly dumb career politician – “Lose any more IQ points, and his staff might have to put him in a pot in the corner and water him three times a week.”) But there’s more! ‘Cruella’ Jackson Lee has been acknowledged hands down for many years as the rudest and most abusive boss on Capitol Hill. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Civil Society, Current Events, Customer Service, Diversions, Human Behavior, Politics | 17 Comments »

    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.)
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    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.
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    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.
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    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.”
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    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.
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    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.

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    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…

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    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.

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