A Tipping Point?

So help me Bog, I think the tipping point – that is, the end of toleration and indulgence for all things trans – is fast approaching. For all that social media, and the social media outlets masquerading as national news and entertainment outlets can pretend otherwise – ordinary people have been fed to the teeth with pro-trans propaganda and are beginning to rebel. A most unforeseen development is in the rebellion of parents and alums of a very upper-caste all-girls school against the decision by the school to admit biological males who claim that they are really girls. Well, after the experience of a public school system who were all chuffed no end at having their own special mini-tranny, who was then accused of raping a couple of genuine no-kidding XX girls … well, I’d venture to guess that the bloom is off the tranny rose whenever parents must consider the safety of their daughters. Especially well-heeled parents. Especially when a well-founded suspicion develops that male perverts are trading on claims of being trans to gain access to biological females-only spaces for jollies and their own predatory purposes, and second-rate male athletes are doing it for a chance to rate rather better in their chosen sport by competing against smaller and physically weaker competitors.

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Rapò Sitiyasyon Ayiti

Most problems were not problems long enough to be interesting.

— Larry Niven, PROTECTOR

Haiti has remained a problem long enough to be interesting.

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Inflation and Society

Theodore Dalrymple notes that inflation is more than a purely economic phenomenon…it also has profound social and psychological effects.even characterological effects:

For one thing, inflation destroys the very idea of enough, because no one can have any confidence that a monetary income that at present is adequate will not be whittled down to very little in a matter of a few years. Not everyone desires to be rich, but most people desire not to be poor, especially in old age. Unfortunately, when there is inflation, the only way to insure against poverty in old age is either to be in possession of a government-guaranteed index-linked pension (which, however, is a social injustice in itself, and may one day be undermined by statistical manipulation by a government under force of economic circumstances, partly brought about by the very existence of such pensions), or to become much richer than one would otherwise aim or desire to be. And the latter turns financial speculation from a minority into a mass pursuit, either directly or, more usually, by proxy: for not to speculate, but rather to place one’s trust in the value of money at a given modest return, is to risk impoverishment. I saw this with my own father: once prosperous, he fell by his aversion to speculation into comparative penury. 

Reminds me of something written by Sebastian Haffner, who grew up in Germany between the wars. Discussing the great Weimar inflation, he says:

Anyone who had savings in a bank, bonds, or gilts, saw their value disappear overnight. Soon it did not matter whether it ws a penny put away for a rainy day or a vast fortune. everything was obliterated…the cost of living had begun to spiral out of control. ..A pound of potatoes which yesterday had cost fifty thousand marks now cost a hundred thousand. The salary of sixty-five thousand marks brought home the previous Friday was no longer sufficient to buy a packet of cigarettes on Tuesday.

The only people who were able to survive financially were those that bought stocks. (And, of course, were shrewd or lucky enough to buy the right stocks and to sell them at the right times.)

Every minor official, every employee, every shift-worker became a shareholder. Day-to-day purchases were paid for by selling shares. On wage days there was a general stampede to the banks, and share prices shot up like rockets…Sometimes some shares collapsed and thousands of people hurtled towards the abyss. In every shop, every factory, every school, share tips were whispered in one’s ear.

The old and unworldy had the worst of it. Many were driven to begging, many to suicide. The young and quick-witted did well. Overnight they became free, rich, and independent. It was a situation in which mental inertia and reliance on past experience was punished by starvation and death, but rapid appraisal of new situations and speed of reaction was rewarded with sudden, vast riches. The twenty-one-year-old bank director appeared on the scene, and also the sixth-former who earned his living from the stock-market tips of his slighty older friends. He wore Oscar Wilde ties, organized champagne parties, and supported his embarrassed father.

Haffner believes that the great inflation–particularly by the way it destroyed the balance between generations and empowered the inexperienced young–helped pave the way for Naziism.

In August 1923 the dollar-to-mark ratio reached a million, and soon thereafter the number was much higher. Trade was shutting down, and complete social chaos threatened. Various self-appointed saviors appeared: Hausser, in Berlin…Hitler, in Munich, who at the time was just one among many rabble-rousers…Lamberty, in Thuringia, who emphasized folk-dancing, singing, and frolicking.

The inflation was eventually brought under control:

Then a miracle happened. “Small, ugly grey-green notes” appeared, with “One Rentenmark” written on them. The small numbers on these notes belied their value. You could use them to buy goods which had previously cost a billion marks. And, most amazingly, they held their value. Goods which had cost 5 Rentenmarks last week would also generally cost 5 Rentenmarks next week.

But the after-effects of the great inflation lived on.

There are two excellent novels, both by author Hans Fallada, which portray the psychosocial impact of the Weimar inflation and its aftermath

Wolf Among Wolves is set in the worst period of the inflation.  The protagonist, Wolfgang Pagel, is a well-meaning but rather irresponsible young man trying to make his way in a society with rising social and economic chaos. Can Wolfgang grow up to be a responsible adult?..and can he survive surrounded by wolves without himself becoming a wolf?  I reviewed the book here.

Little Man, What Now? is set in a somewhat later time period, 1932.  The great inflation of Weimar has come and gone, but the psychological damage as well as the economic damage–still lingers.  Johannes and Emma, known to one another as Sonny and Lammchen, are a likeable young couple who marry when Lammchen unexpectedly becomes pregnant. Their world is not the world of Weimar’s avant-garde artists and writers, or of its risque-to-outright-degenerate cabaret scene. It is far from the world of a young middle-class intellectual like Sebastian Haffner.  Theirs is the world of people at the absolute bottom of anything that could be considered as even lower-middle-class, struggling to hold on by their fingernails.  Here’s my review.   There was also a pretty good American movie made based on the book, review here

The Weimar inflation was an extreme case, of course, and we are unlikely to see anything nearly as severe.  But, as Dalrymple notes, even less-catastrophic levels of inflation tend to have malign effects.  The Biden administration and the Democratic Congress seem remarkably unconcerned about these effects, or with the socially-destructive effects of so many other parts of their total policy set.

On the other hand, if inflation gets sufficiently bad, kids can make kites out of currency.  And, if energy prices continue their climb upward, devalued currency could be used for heating fuel.

Humor and Seriousness

Katherine Boyle is a partner at the VC firm Andreessen Horowitz and she is a thoughtful writer on many topics.  See her post The Case for American Seriousness at Bari Weiss’s substack; also, her posts at her own substack, The Rambler, especially those concerning family, parenting, and technology.

In an interview, she said “The biggest criticism I got from the (American Seriousness) piece, and other times I’ve written about seriousness, is that it doesn’t leave room for frivolity, play or the unseriousness that makes us deeply human. And I empathize with that sentiment, but I don’t think the opposite of seriousness is humor: the opposite of seriousness is irony.”

I agree absolutely that there is no inconsistency between seriousness and humor…quite the contrary, I would say.  Concerning Irony, I’m reminded of something C S Lewis wrote.  The following is from The Screwtape Letters, a book of advice from a senior devil to his protege about how to do the maximum harm to humans:

But Flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers that inherent it the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy: it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it.

Irony, I think, is closely related to the Flippancy about which Lewis’s devil wrote.  Also related to irony is Sarcasm, concerning which Field Marshal Lord Wavell offered some thoughts:

Explosions of temper do not necessarily ruin a general’s reputation or influence with his troops; it is almost expected of them (“the privileged irascibility of senior officers,” someone has written), and it is not always resented, sometimes even admired, except by those immediately concerned. But sarcasm is always resented and seldom forgiven. (emphasis added)  In the Peninsula the bitter sarcastic tongue of Craufurd, the brilliant but erratic leader of the Light Division, was much more wounding and feared than the more violent outbursts of Picton, a rough, hot-tempered man.

Wavell defined Sarcasm as “being clever at someone else’s expense.”  In his view, sarcasm always offends, and a general (or, presumably, any other officer or individual in a position of authority) should never indulge in it.

I think that in many organizations in America today–perhaps, even, most organizations of any size–fear of Cancellation has reached the point at which easy interaction among people–which includes a certain amount of humor–has been replaced with a kind of fragile pseudo-formality.  This is not good for either innovation or productivity, not to mention its toxic impact on individual lives.

What are your thoughts on humor, seriousness, irony, and sarcasm?

 

Command Failure in the Ardennes, December 1944

This past December 16th 2022 marked the 78th anniversary of the German Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein (“Operation Watch on the Rhine“) offensive in the Ardennes area of Europe, otherwise known popularly as “The Battle of the Bulge.”  The “official narrative” for this battle is that it was an “intelligence surprise” where “Ultra’ code breaking signals intelligence missed because Hitler kept all of the important communications on untappable telephone/telegraph land lines or special couriers. The sole exception being General Patton’s 3rd Army G-2 intelligence officer Colonel (later Brigadier General) Oscar Koch who didn’t rely upon ULTRA and put together the complete picture through a process now known as “All Source Analysis“. Which built an intelligence picture for every intelligence discipline. signals, human, photographic, geographic, combat reports plus dogged order of battle cross filing that sorted every bit of information to plot existence, location and status of enemy ground and air units. A week before the German attack, December 9th 1944, Colonel Koch briefed General Patton’s full 3rd Army staff as to German capabilities and most dangerous probable intentions of those capabilities. Based upon this briefing, Patton ordered his 3rd Army staff to put together a series of counter attack options that were immortalized in a scene from the 1970 movie PATTON.

 

Figure above from 1997 masters paper “Signal Security In The Ardennes Offensive 1944-1945 Laurie G. Moe Buckhout, Maj. USA

Like a lot of narratives of World War 2, it uses a couple of nuggets of truth with the German ULTRA security black out and Colonel Koch’s brief to Patton to hide and conceal more than inform. It turns out that a lot more people on the allied side than Colonel Koch foresaw the impending German offensive. And that the failure to act on these multiple sources of accurate intelligence was a Command Failure by the “Ultra Cliques” of allied officers at Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces  (SHAEF), United States Strategic Air Force (USSTAF), the American 12th Army Group, and American 1st Army.

This command failure came less from a German security induced blindness of ULTRA than from a months long manipulation of Ultra intelligence data stream by senior officials in the British government — located in the Ministry of Economic Warfare, the “Oil Lobby” through out the Air Ministry and Whitehall ‘Committee Bureaucracy’ as well as the Directorate of Bombing Operations in the Air Ministry — intent on making German oil supplies the top strategic target set over German transportation targets in the Combined Bomber Offensive.  Their motives here were not only to collapse the German economy as a “War Termination Strategy,” but more importantly, make sure Air Power was seen as responsible for the German collapse after the Russian capture of the Romanian Ploesti oil fields in August 1944.  (If you are seeing some post-war institutional motivations here…you are correct.)

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These manipulations were discovered in February 1945 by SHAEF when the after action forensic analysis by Royal Air Force Deputy Chief of Air Staff (DCAS) Air Marshall Bottomley found the Combined Strategic Targets Committee (CSTC) was systematically removing messages relating to the distress of the German Railroad, and collapse of the German economy resulting from the railway problems, starting in the fall of 1944.

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