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    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 6th June 2020 (All posts by )

    A long but interesting essay about Peter Thiel, who is IMO one of the more thoughtful and creative among the Silicon Valley set.

    The politicization of everything…including websites like nextdoor.com, “designed for people to share useful information within a neighborhood like dates of bulky trash-pick, locations of road closings, and postings of lawn equipment for sale”…as seen by a woman who is a music historian, with a particular concentration on Russia.

    Dispatches from the front lines of the knitting wars.  Can these people be trusted with knitting needles? Those things can be dangerous, you know.

    A post by a police officer’s wife.

    Violent protest and the intelligentsia.  Disturbing parallels between pre-revolutionary Russia and contemporary America.

    A walk across a beach in Normandy.  Today, June 6, marks the 76th anniversary of the Normandy invasion..I haven’t seen much remembance of this today.

    Posted in Academia, History, Internet, Law Enforcement, Leftism, Russia, Tech | 22 Comments »

    Retro-Reading, Mechanical Engineering, Part 2

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

    (This is a continuation of my Retro-Reading post, based on the April 1930 issue of Mechanical Engineering magazine.  Part One is here)

    A View from the Left.  One of the most interesting things in the magazine is an excerpt from the writing of Sidney Webb, the well-known Fabian socialist.  (The magazine refers to him as a “publicist,” maybe that was 1930-speak for an activist.)

    The manual-working population of the cities was, in fact, mainly composed of laborers who were lifelong hewers of wood and drawers of water whilst that of the vast stretches of farmland and forest outside the cities was as devoid of art as of letters. And the proportion of merely mechanical work in the world s production has, taken as a whole, lessened, not increased. What a multitude of laborers quarried the stones, dragged and carried the stones and lifted the stones of the cathedral walls on which half a dozen skilled and artistic masons carved gargoyles? From the building of the Pyramids down to the present day, the proportion of the world’s work of the nature of mere physical digging, pushing, carrying, lifting and hammering, by the exertion of muscular force, has almost continuously diminished….

    And it must not be forgotten that, in Western civilization to-day, the actual numbers of men and women engaged in daily work of distinctly intellectual character, which is thus not necessarily devoid of art, are positively greater than at any previous time. There are, of course, many more such workers of superior education, artistic capacity, and interesting daily tasks in Henry Ford’s factories at Detroit than there were in the whole city of Detroit fifty years ago! Along side of these successors of the equally exceptional skilled handicraftsmen of the Middle Ages there has come to be a vast multitude of other workers with less interesting tasks, who could not other wise have come into existence, and who represent the laborers of the cities and the semi-servile rural population of past times, and who certainly would not themselves dream of wishing to revert to the conditions of those times. It may be granted, that, in much of their daily tasks (as has always been the case) the workers of to-day can find no joy, and take the very minimum of interest. But there is one all important difference in their lot. Unlike their predecessors, these men spend only half their waking hours at the task by which they gain their bread. In the other half of their day they are, for the first time in history, free (and, in great measure, able) to give themselves to other interests, which in an ever- increasing proportion of cases lead to an intellectual development heretofore unknown among the typical manual workers. It is, in fact, arguable that it is among the lower half of the manual workers of Western civilization rather than among the upper half, that there has been the greatest relative advance during the past couple of centuries. It is, indeed, to the so-called unskilled workers of London and Berlin and Paris, badly off in many respects as they still are and notably to their wives and children that the Machine Age has incidentally brought the greatest advance in freedom and in civilization.

    Rather different from the view of our present-day leftists, wouldn’t you say?  Indeed, both the American New Deal and the Soviet Communist Party were huge supporters of hydroelectric dams… today, many of the Progs want to tear them down.

    I’ll continue in a future post with some other highlights from the magazine, including the articles on transportation and metalworking.

    Posted in History, Leftism, Miscellaneous, Tech, USA | 42 Comments »

    Video Review: The Dawns Here Are Quiet

    Posted by David Foster on 17th May 2020 (All posts by )

    This is both a 2015 Russian WWII TV series and a 1972 Russian movie, both based on the same novel.  The original movie is apparently considered a classic in Russia; so much so that making a new version was viewed as almost blasphemous by some.

    Sergeant Vaskov is in charge of an antiaircraft battery in a (so far) quiet area.  His troops have been a drunken and quarrelsome lot, and when they are swapped out and sent to the front, he asks for replacements who will not drink and carouse with the local women so excessively.  He is surprised and initially dismayed when the replacements show up and they are all women…girls, really, just out of AA gunner’s training.

    The movie starts out with a rather light tone, but quickly darkens.  Two German paratroopers—apparently saboteurs targeting a vital transportation junction—are spotted in the woods, and Vaskov takes five of his women and goes out after them.  It turns out that there are actually a lot more of the enemy than two…sixteen, in fact…and stopping them will be practically a mission impossible for Vaskov and his five newly-minted AA gunners.

    I first watched the recent TV series, which has excellent cinematography and some really striking scenery. The backstories of the women and of their male commander are shown via a series of flashbacks. Lisa Britschkina, a shy girl, was sent to Siberia with her family on grounds of being Kulaks, yet she seemingly feels no conflicts about fighting for the Soviet state.  Another of the five ‘volunteers’, Sonia Gurvich, was an excellent student and loves to read poetry aloud. Her husband was killed on the first day of the war–she has a son, who is living with Sonia’s mother. Vaskov when we meet him is a rather troubled person:  his wife has left him for another man, he was wounded on his first day of battle and has guilt feelings about now being assigned to this relatively-safe backwater in the midst of a war for national survival.

    I don’t want to include any spoilers in this review: suffice it to say that this isn’t a strong-and-independent-female-superhero movie. The women accomplish remarkable things, but they and Vaskov are a true team.  Some of the scenes and events seem improbable, but the story draws you in and the characters will not be easily forgotten.

    I was curious as to how the 1972 movie would compare with the more recent series…watched it, and was pleasantly surprised–I was expecting a lot more heavy-handed Soviet propaganda than was in it.  The use of color in this film is interesting: most of it is in black & white, but the flashbacks…most of which refer to the time before the war..are in color. The story is pretty close to that in the 2015 series; the portrayal of the characters, particularly the women, is pretty different–for one thing, those in the 1972 movie seem even younger, and act (at least initially) rather girlier.  One backstory is notably different in this version–that of Lisa Britschkina–the part about her family having been sent to Siberia isn’t there.  (I’m not sure if it was in the original novel, but based on when it was published (1969) I’m guessing not.)  In both versions, some of the women smart off toward Vaskov in a way which they seem unlikely to have been gotten away with in the 1940s or for that matter today, even with a leader as fundamentally kindly as he is portrayed as being.

    One objection some Russians have to the recent video is that it is “too Hollywood-ized”…this is a fair criticism of the action scenes near the end, but not, I think, of the whole thing.  Both versions are worth seeing.

    I’m preaching largely to the converted here, but–we should always keep in mind, when watching Russian WWII films or reading books on the same subject, that the great heroism demonstrated by so many Russians, and the fact that they were allied with America, do not negate the extreme evil of the Soviet regime.

     

     

    Posted in Film, History, Leftism, Russia, War and Peace | 25 Comments »

    Dark Sarcasm In the Classroom

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

    And in other places, like New York. I must confess to snickering nastily at New Yorker’s response to Mayor OBlah-blah’s unveiling of a system to nark out your neighbors for not obeying every jot and tittle of the Wuhan Corona-crud restrictions. Said system was immediately swamped in an unstoppable rising tide of rude pictures, pictures of rude gestures, and sarcastic references to Hitler, as well as crude personal jibes regarding the Mayor himself – to the point where the system was taken down entirely. Well, good for New Yorkers, I say – and a very good thing that such a thing wasn’t tried in a Texas city; seriously, the receiving server would have melted down into a radioactive puddle of goo. And California skateboarders industriously clearing out their skate-park of the sand dumped into it by officious authorities and making a dirt-bike track out of the excess sand? That’s just freaking awesome. We have not forgotten how to cock a snook at overweening authority; a tradition has been passed on to a new generation…
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Conservatism, Current Events, Leftism | 34 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd April 2020 (All posts by )

    Waiting for Good Dough.  Excerpts of some thoughts on central banking and monetary policy, from a newsletter issued by Paul Singer’s hedge fund, Elliott Management.  Best post/article title I’ve seen in a long time.

    Remote work in industry during the pandemic and maybe afterwards…some thoughts from the CEO of GE Digital.

    Skills development in industry.  Career progression doesn’t always have to involve college education.

    Grim excerpts and critiques an Atlantic article which is a rather hysterical attack on a class of people who are very different from the author.

    Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen (he was coauthor of the first widely-used web browser and cofounder of Netscape) writes about the need for America to focus on building things. Surely most of us here will agree with that spirit, but a lot of his specifics seem dubious to say the least. Stuart Schneiderman offers some thoughts; worthwhile comment thread.

    A cat and a dog offer differing views about the merits of the work from home approach.

    Posted in Big Government, COVID-19, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Education, Leftism, Tech, USA | 11 Comments »

    American Has an Autoimmune Disease

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

    An autoimmune disease is an illness that occurs when the body tissues are attacked by its own immune system.  The US today has this condition big-time.  Historically, the condition has arisen and reached toxic levels in other countries; as an example, France, during the run-up to the Second World War and even during the campaign of 1940.

    General Edward Spears, who was Churchill’s military liaison with France, was told by Georges Mandel, the combative interior minister, about the mayor of a district in Paris which had been bombed who went about the lobbies, screaming:  I will interpellate the Government on this outrage as soon as the chamber meets!  Mandel expressed his contempt for this kind of behavior, saying sarcastically “Paris is bombed by the German?  Let’s shake our fists at or own government.”  Spears notes that “The other way, that of silently going off to collect a gun and have a shot at the enemy, was a solution that occurred only to a few…How Hitler must have laughed, I told myself.”

    A few months earlier, an interviewer asked Paul Reynaud, who had just become Prime Minister of France, about his long-standing and bitter rivalry with Edouard Daladier.

    Nevertheless, ”the interviewer  said, “Daladier is certainly a man who loves his country.”

    “Yes,” Reynaud replied, “I believe he desires the victory of France, but he desires my defeat even more.”

    This may have been a bit unfair to Daladier, who was far from the worst of the leading French politicians of the day. But it gives an accurate impression of the state of things in the late Third Republic.  And it may actually understate the state of things in America today, where for many politicians and journalists, the well-being of America and of Americans doesn’t seem to enter into the equation at all compared with the search for political advantage.

    The obsession with political power, and with the denunciation of opponents, is not today limited to politicians, journalists, and ‘activists’…it has spread to a large proportion of the population.  Millions of Americans, it seems, are in a state of visceral rage against not only Trump, but against any and all of his supporters.  There is no activity, of any sort, that is safe from volcanic overflowings of political rage…not even knitting, as strange as that may seem.

    It often seems impossible to find any point of entry for an attempt to get Progs to reconsider their beliefs, in however small a way.  I’m reminded of something written by Arthur Koestler, himself a former Communist, on the subject of intellectually closed systems:

    A closed system has three peculiarities. Firstly, it claims to represent a truth of universal validity, capable of explaining all phenomena, and to have a cure for all that ails man. In the second place, it is a system which cannot be refuted by evidence, because all potentially damaging data are automatically processed and reinterpreted to make them fit the expected pattern. The processing is done by sophisticated methods of casuistry, centered on axioms of great emotive power, and indifferent to the rules of common logic; it is a kind of Wonderland croquet, played with mobile hoops. In the third place, it is a system which invalidates criticism by shifting the argument to the subjective motivation of the critic, and deducing his motivation from the axioms of the system itself. The orthodox Freudian school in its early stages approximated a closed system; if you argued that for such and such reasons you doubted the existence of the so-called castration complex, the Freudian’s prompt answer was that your argument betrayed an unconscious resistance indicating that you yourself have a castration complex; you were caught in a vicious circle. Similarly, if you argued with a Stalinist that to make a pact with Hitler was not a nice thing to do he would explain that your bourgeois class-consciousness made you unable to understand the dialectics of history…In short, the closed system excludes the possibility of objective argument by two related proceedings: (a) facts are deprived of their value as evidence by scholastic processing; (b) objections are invalidated by shifting the argument to the personal motive behind the objection. This procedure is legitimate according to the closed system’s rules of the game which, however absurd they seem to the outsider, have a great coherence and inner consistency.

    The atmosphere inside the closed system is highly charged; it is an emotional hothouse…The trained, “closed-minded” theologian, psychoanalyst, or Marxist can at any time make mincemeat of his “open-minded” adversary and thus prove the superiority of his system to the world and to himself.

    In attempting to debate with “progressives,” one often encounters this kind of closed-system thinking:  there is absolutely no way you are going to change their minds, whatever the evidence or logic.  (I don’t think this is true of  all  “progressives”–otherwise the situation in America today would be even more grim than it actually is–but it’s true of a lot of them.)

    But today’s Progressivism is not a coherent intellectual system with definable axioms like Marxism or a Christian theology; it seems much more a cluster of emotional reactions.

    Certain Progs have gone so far out on the limb that there seems no hope they could ever come back; this certainly is true of most commentators on CNN and MSNBC…they will just become angrier and more extreme, and it will all be broadcast to millions as long as their owners (AT&T and Comcast, respectively) keep the money flowing.  But what about ordinary people, those whose lives do not center (or at least previously have not centered) around politics?…Is there any sign that some may be willing to reconsider some of their beliefs, specifically in the midst of the Cornavirus crisis?  I have seen comments by people saying they have friends who have recently been willing to reconsider their support for open borders, or for offshoring most American manufacturing to China, in the light of current events.  I haven’t seen much of this, personally.  What I see is more people who are so completely aligned with their ‘side’, that they view events largely through the light of how they can be interpreted to support that side.  These are often people who were not particularly interested in politics or political philosophy  prior to recent years.

    This isn’t one of my more coherent posts, but I’d like to discuss: Can the American autoimmune disease be cured?  Why did it develop and get so bad?  What, as individuals, can we do to help with the cure or at least the mitigation?

    Posted in Current Events, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Politics, Society | 15 Comments »

    Schumer’s Threats, in Context

    Posted by David Foster on 10th March 2020 (All posts by )

    Democrat Charles Schumer, speaking to “protestors” outside the Supreme Court: “I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you, Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”

    This statement was clearly a threat, but what kind of threat? Perhaps a direct physical threat, but more likely, I think, a threat to subject the two justices to the kind of orchestrated slander campaign that was already unleashed against Justice Kavanaugh; a slander campaign the would result in great emotional pain to the Justices and their families and great disruption to the operations of the Court.

    The crowd to which Schumer was speaking is typically referred to as “protestors” in news reports, but what are they protesting? No decision has been made in this case. Evidently they are protesting the willingness of the Court to even consider the arguments made by the two sides in this case.

    I’d call them a mob. Judge Andrew Napolitano, who does not believe Schumer’s statement violated any laws, nevertheless called the statement an “effort to politicize the court, to make them look like they can be intimidated by a mob outside of the courthouse.”

    The present-day Democratic Party together with its media/academic/activist archipelago has become quite friendly toward mob action and mob intimidation. One especially appalling event was the attempt to shut down law professor Josh Blackman’s talk at the City University of New York law school. When Blackman said the way to deal with a law you don’t like is to change the law…

    A student shouted out “[expletive] the law.” This comment stunned me. I replied, “[expletive] the law? That’s a very odd thing. You are all in law school. And it is a bizarre thing to say [expletive] the law when you are in law school.” They all started to yell and shout over me.

    There has been an awful lot of this sort of thing, and it seems to have been increasing exponentially over the last several years.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Current Events, Germany, History, Human Behavior, Law, Leftism, USA | 13 Comments »

    “The Irish Antifa Project”

    Posted by Jonathan on 9th March 2020 (All posts by )

    Along the lines of Project Veritas comes a promising new endeavor by right-of-center Irish students:

    In December of last year a Twitter account was set-up. Titled “Irish Students Against Fascism”, it described itself as an aspiring antifascist organising hub to physically, socially and professionally harass individuals engaged with conservative or nationalist politics on campuses.
     
    Very soon the account garnered well over a thousand followers, with retweets from the Union of Students Ireland’s official account among other leftist activist organizations. The account boasted of an impending website dumping incriminating material relating to students on campus, particularly in Young Fine Gael, and invited individuals to contribute over private messaging.
     
    What has been unknown until today was that, from the very onset, the page was operated by students involved with The Burkean. The account was set up with the intent of performing long term investigative work into antifascism in Ireland, as well as its insidious and often blatant links with civic society, journalism and politics.
     
    Put politely, antifascism is the euphemism given to the work done to destroy the lives of people with right leaning sympathies. While traditionally associated with left republicanism, it is these days more often than not linked to Ireland’s ubiquitous NGO complex, as well as well-funded activists heavily networked within the world of journalism, politics and the private sector.
     
    Many young people on the Irish Right have long claimed that there is institutional bias constantly working against them. However, it is only now that we can definitively say that this is not the case.
     
    There is no institutional bias against young conservatives. There is an outright conspiracy against them…

    Read the whole thing.

    Posted in Anglosphere, Civil Society, Conservatism, Ireland, Leftism, Media, Political Philosophy, Politics | 4 Comments »

    Strange Bedfellows?

    Posted by David Foster on 11th February 2020 (All posts by )

    There seems to be a very large overlap between the political and social opinions of academics–a group which is very highly-educated, at least if we measure by time spent in the classroom–and the opinions of entertainers/celebrities–not typically distinguished in their educational level by that same metric, to put it mildly.  (Although with individual exceptions, of course)

    Why?

    Posted in Academia, Leftism, Media, Politics | 15 Comments »

    Going, Going. Gone

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 31st January 2020 (All posts by )

    The credibility of the mainstream press establishment is shimmering into nothingness, like the last bit of winter snow after a week of warm spring days; just as our respect and trust for such federal bureaucracies and establishments like the FBI are similarly evaporating. While acknowledging and accepting that such establishments are operated by mere mortals, with all the weaknesses and moral failings that ordinary human beings are heir to, and grudgingly accepting the understanding that the establishment news media trends strongly to the left in political sympathies … look, we can accept all that and a certain degree of human bias, but what’s getting hard to swallow of late is the sheer, mind-numbing, flaming incompetence of them all. Which might be a blessing, for terrifying competence on the part of our current Ruling Class and their minions would make protesting or opposing them that much more difficult. Instead, as Kirk so memorably put it last week,

    “What we have is, instead, an aristocracy of dunces, men and women who tell the rest of us how smart they are, and then screw up the entirety of civilization based on fantasies they’ve come up with. The rest of us need to start recognizing that the emperor not only isn’t wearing any clothes, he’s drunk off his ass and waving his wing-wang in our faces. The people who’ve flim-flammed their way into power are all dangerously inept and terminally deluded. If you doubt me, open your eyes and look around yourself: Is there anything, anything at all that these soi-disant “elites” have gotten right in the last century? Anything at all?”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Civil Society, Conservatism, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Law Enforcement, Leftism, Media | 48 Comments »

    The New Versailles

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

    My daughter actually suggested this line of thought; that the current ruling class (or those who think themselves to be so) in the United States are perilously akin to the French nobility – those who were termed the ancient regime, of pre-revolutionary France. The ruling class were gathered together deliberately at Versailles, where all was all as far as the nobles and ruling class were concerned for at least a hundred years.

    There, amid the squalid splendors of Versailles, they were gathered together, under the eye of the King, to frivol their lives away, distracted by spectacles and the vicious grasp for and fall from power within a very small realm. Only instead of a vast palace, outbuildings, gardens and minor palaces, our ruling class disports in a slightly larger venue, that of Washington, DC and the surrounding suburbs. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Conservatism, Culture, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Leftism, Politics | 44 Comments »

    The Perfect Villain

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 16th January 2020 (All posts by )

    For the life of me, I cannot recall who first observed that environmentalists now make the most perfectly hissable villains, because they almost invariably make matters worse in the long run. Absolute certainty in their own mind that their dictates are the one and only true way, combined with reluctance to consider any other method, and of late, just about all their prescriptions have had lamentable results … yes, there is a perfect villain. Smug, certain … and wrong. Catastrophically, earth-shatteringly, human-damaging, and economically-harmful wrong.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Environment, Leftism | 24 Comments »

    When Doom Comes a’ Calling

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 10th January 2020 (All posts by )

    (I started this post last weekend – but real life and a new book project intervened. Consider this a footnote to Trent T.’s post, here.)

    Well, it certainly came a’calling for Iran’s General Qasem Soleimani last week, Middle Eastern time. Nothing left but bits of scrap metal and meat, and a bruised hand with a large ring on it. Kind of fitting for the guy who perfected the fine art of IEDs, and brought so much business to the developers of artificial limbs for those survivors of that deadly art. As the satirist Tom Leher noted, so many decades ago, and in a slightly different context,

    “Some have harsh words for this man of renown,
    But some think our attitude
    Should be one of gratitude,
    Like the widows and cripples in old London town
    Who owe their large pensions to Werner von Braun.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Current Events, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Leftism, Middle East, Military Affairs, Terrorism, The Press | 14 Comments »

    Kamala Down and other December Follies

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 9th December 2019 (All posts by )

    The potential slate of Democrat Party nominees for next years’ presidential election is down by one, as of last week with Kamala Harris withdrawing from consideration. I thought she would hold out a bit longer, appearing to be electorally ballot-proof, as a woman of (at a long squint) color, privileged (not to say exotic) upbringing, and reliably progressive inclinations, plus the establishment national media were already giving her the ‘buffed lightly with a flannel cloth as she is a luminous pearl’ treatment that had been previously administered to Barak Obama. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Conservatism, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Leftism, Obama, Politics | 24 Comments »

    The Seemingly Unending Schiff Show

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 20th November 2019 (All posts by )

    I was going through my routine at Planet Fitness this morning, as is our habit – three times weekly, usually around 8 of the clock; half-past at latest, for an hour on the elliptical and the stair-step with a cool-down on the recumbent. There is a bank of television screens across the middle of the gym, offering all the alphabet networks, plus CNN, Univision, the Planet Fitness channel, and something that has Friends and Seinfeld on rotation during the time that I am not watching any of them. (I have perfected the art of reading my Kindle while stepping and pedaling; after all, being able to read makes the whole exercise thing bearable.)

    All the news feeds – four or five of the screens had the same damn unending Schiff show; which is to say that interminable search for solid grounds upon which to impeach a sitting and duly elected president of the USA. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Blogging, Conservatism, Crony Capitalism, Europe, Internet, Leftism, Media, Politics, Terrorism, The Press, Trump | 26 Comments »

    Anniversary: The End of the Berlin Wall

    Posted by David Foster on 10th November 2019 (All posts by )

    November 9 marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

    Peter Robinson, who drafted President Reagan’s speech including the line Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!, has some thoughts.

    Bill Brandt offers some remembrances and some video clips.

    Bill’s post mentioned Anna Funder’s excellent book Stasiland:  Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall, which I reviewed here.

    An interesting website by a former East German MIG-21 pilot.

    Posted in Aviation, Book Notes, Germany, History, Leftism | 7 Comments »

    Who’s Your Baghdaddy?

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 30th October 2019 (All posts by )

    It is deeply, solidly ironic that at almost the very hour that US forces were bagging Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, fearless leader of the ISIL/ISIS-established caliphate in the Middle East, that the catastrophically-unfunny cast of Saturday Night Live had just finished ragging on President Trump for supposedly coddling ISIS by pulling out of Syria. There hasn’t been a case of timing this bad since 70ies Weatherman terrorist-turned-educator Bill Ayres launched his memoir of bomb-building and social mayhem the very week that Osama Bin Laden’s merry crew of jihadis murdered nearly 3,000 Americans and others in a single day, on September 11th, 2001. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Current Events, International Affairs, Islam, Leftism, Media, Middle East, Military Affairs, Terrorism, War and Peace | 40 Comments »

    Book Review: Red Plenty, by Francis Spufford

    Posted by David Foster on 27th October 2019 (All posts by )

    Red Plenty by Francis Spufford

    —-

    The idea of centralized economic planning is a very seductive one.  It just seems to make sense that such planning would lead to more efficiency…less waste…and certainly less unnecessary human suffering than an environment in which millions of decision-makers, many of them in competition with one another, are making their own separate and uncoordinated decisions, resulting in pointless product redundancy, economic cycles driving unemployment, and lots of other bad things.

    Red Plenty…part novel, part nonfiction…is about the Soviet Union’s economic planning efforts as seen from the inside.  The characters include factory managers, economic planners, mathematicians, computer scientists, and “fixers.”  Published in 2010, Red Plenty is now quite timely in view of the current vogue for socialism in American political discussion.

    Marx drew a nightmare picture of capitalism, when everything was produced only to be exchanged; when true qualities and uses dropped away, and the human power of making and doing itself became only an object to be traded.  The alternative? A dance to the music of use, where every step fulfilled some real need, did some tangible good, and no matter how fast the dancers spun, they moved easily, because they moved to a human measure, intelligible to all, chosen by all.

    How might this actually be accomplished? Stalin mocked the idea that planning an economy required much in the way of intellectual depth or effort.  Get the chain of command right, Stalin seemed to be saying, build it on the right ideological principles, and all that was left was a few technical details, a little bit of drudgery to be carried out by the comrades at Gosplan with the adding machines.  But it turned out to be a little more complicated than that.

    Maksim Maksimovich Mokhov is one of the lords of the Gosplan file room, in which there are hundreds of folders, each tracking the balances and plans for a particular commodity. A good man, who takes his job seriously, Maksim has risen as high as you could go at Gosplan before the posts become purely political appointments..his was the level at which competence was known to reach its ceiling…Not just a mechanical planner, he realizes that the file folders  cast only the loosest and most imperfect net over the prodigious output of the economy as the whole, and has worked to understand the stress points, the secret path dependencies of the plan.  His specific responsibility is the chemical and rubber sector, and he is particularly concerned, at the time when he enters the story, about problems in the viscose subsector.

    Arkhipov, Kosoy, and Mitrenko run one of the most important plants in the viscose supply chain, and they are three worried men.  The plan goals aren’t being met, and they know that the path to career death is separated by only a few percentage points of plan fulfillment from the other one, the upward path, the road to glory and local fame. (A couple of decades earlier, it wouldn’t have been just career death on the table.) This plant makes two viscose-derived products, yarn and tire cord.  The yarn line works fine, the tire cord line, not so much…but no problems with the machine can be found.  There is no prospect of getting a replacement machine in any relevant timeframe.

    Arkhipov and his associates come up with a plan to solve their problem…read the book to see what it is and how it turns out.

    Nikita Khrushchev, in September 1959, told a crowd that “the dreams cherished for ages, dreams expressed in fairytales which seemed sheer fantasy, are being translated into reality by man’s own hands.”  Modern technology, combined with the benefits of a planned economy would make it possible.

    Because the whole system of production and distribution in the USSR was owned by the state, because all Russia was (in Lenin’s words) ‘one office, one factory’, it could be directed, as capitalism could not, to the fastest, most lavish fulfillment, of human needs.  

    The American exhibition in Moscow in mid-1959 (site of the “kitchen debate” between Khrushchev and Nixon) was attended by 3 million Soviets (including some of the characters in this book), and although many of them thought that the American claims of broad-based prosperity were exaggerated or worse, the experience surely helped feed the longing for a better life for the Soviet Union’s ordinary people.

    Leonid Vitalevich Kantorovich pioneered the application of mathematics to the optimization of economic activities…these methods surfaced as a possible toolkit for the planning organizations circa 1960. Could these methods help achieve Khrushchev’s stated goal of broad-based prosperity?

    For example, consider several factories, producing a common set of products but with different efficiency characteristics.  Which products should be made by which factories in order to optimize overall efficiency? A set of equations can be constructed representing the constraints that must be observed–labor, machine utlization, etc–and the relative weighting of the variables to be optimized.  Although these techniques have been used to a considerable degree in capitalist countries, they would seem tailor-made for a starring role in a planned economy.  Selling the new methods in the Soviet Union, though, could be tricky:  the linear-programming term “shadow prices”, for example, sounded like something that might have politically-dangerous overtones of capitalism!

    One of the first applications involved potatoes, the distribution of same. The BESM (computer) is using Leonid Vitalevich’s shadow prices to do what a market in potatoes would do in a capitalist country–only better. When a market is matching supply with demand, it is the actual movement of the potatoes themselves from place to place, the actual sale of the potatoes at ever-shifting prices, which negotiates a solution, by trial and error.  In the computer, the effect of a possible solution can be assessed without the wasteful real-world to-ing and fro-ing, and because the computer works at the speed of flying electrons rather than the speed of a trundling vegetable truck, it can explore the whole of the mathematical space of possible solutions, and be sure to find the very best solution there is, instead of settling for the good-enough sollution that would be all there was time for, in a working day with potatoes to deliver.

    And even in the planned Soviet economy, there is still a market in potatoes, right here in Moscow, the leftover scrap of capitalism represented by the capital’s collective-farm bazaars, where individual kolkhozniks sell the product from their private plots…The market’s clock speed is laughable.  It computes a the rate of a babushka in a headscare, laboriously breaking a two-rouble note for change and muttering the numbers under her breath…No wonder that Oscar Lange over in Warsaw gleefully calls the marketplace “a primitive pre-electronic calculator.”

    So put the BESM to work minimizing distance that the potatoes have to travel..a proxy for efficiency and freshness:  price is not a consideration, since the state selling price of potatoes has been fixed for many years.  But BESM can only work with abstract potatoes: Not, of course, potatoes as they are in themselves, the actual tubers, so often frost-damaged or green with age or warty with sprouting tublices–but potatoes abstracted, potatoes considered as information, travelling into Moscow from 348 delivering units to 215 consuming organizations…The economists recognize the difficulty of getting a computer model to mirror the world truly.  They distinguish between working at zadachi, ‘from the problem’, and of fotografii, ‘from the photograph’…This calculation, alas, is from the photograph.  It deals with potato delivery as it has been reported to Leonid Vitalevich and his colleagues.  There has been no time to visit the cold-stores, interview the managers, ride on the delivery trucks. But the program should still work.

    The author notes that “the idea that the computer had conclusively resolved the socialist calculation debate in socialism’s favour was very much a commonplace of the early sixties.”

    But despite all the planning paperwork, despite the attempts at computerization, people like Chekuskin remain essential to keep the Soviet economy functioning at all.  He is a fixer, he works the system to ensure that his customers–factories, for the most part–can get the parts and materials they need in order to keep operating.  Before the revolution, he was a salesman: now, the economic problem is not selling, but buying.  Chekuskin explains what a real salesman was, back in the day:

    You’re thinking of some fellow who works in a sales administration, sits by his phone all day long like a little king, licks his finger when he feels like it, and says, “You can have a litttle bit”…That’s not a salesman.  You see, the world used to be the other way up, and it used to be the buyers who sat around examining their fingernails, hard enough as that is to imagine.  A salesman was a poor hungry bastard with a suitcase, trying to shift something that people probably didn’t want, ’cause back in those days, people didn’t just get out the money and buy anything they could get their hands on.  They had to be talked into it.”

    But with Communism, the things changed.  Back then, people didn’t want to buy.  Now, they don’t want to sell.  There’s always that resistance to get past.  But the trick of it stays the same:  make a connection, build a relationship.

    Volodya, is a young propagandist recently assigned to the huge locomotive plant in Novocherkassk, a dismal town that also features a university.  Unfortunately, it was classified by the planners as a “college town”, in need of the calorific intake required to lift pencils and wipe blackboards, but there were forty thousand people living and working in the industrial zone out by the tracks now, and between the students and the loco workers, a locust would have been hard put to it to find a spare crumb. White bread was a distant memory, milk was dispensed only at the head of enormous queues.  Sausages were as rare a comets.  Pea soup and porridge powered the place, usually served on half-washed plates.

    Eventually, people can’t stand it anymore–and decisions by two separate planning organizations have the result that on the very same day, food prices are increased and so are the production quotas at the locomotive factory.   There is a raucous mass protest, featuring signs like MEAT, BUTTER, AND PAY and CUT UP KHRUSHCHEV FOR SAUSAGES.  The loco plant manager, Korochkin, does not handle the situation well, and the rage grows.

    The ensuing catastrophe is vividly described as it is observed by the horrified Volodya.  Troops open fire on the protestors:  26 people are killed an 87 wounded.  Death sentences and long prison terms are handed down.

    This was a real event:  it happened in 1962.  News about the events did not appear in the state-controlled press for thirty years.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Capitalism, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Leftism, Management, Markets and Trading, Russia, Systems Analysis, Tech | 37 Comments »

    Sputnik Anniversary Rerun–Book Review: Rockets and People

    Posted by David Foster on 4th October 2019 (All posts by )

    Today being the 62nd  anniversary of the Sputnik launch, here’s a rerun of a post about a very interesting book.

    Rockets and People, by Boris E Chertok

    Boris Chertok’s career in the Soviet aerospace industry spanned many decades, encompassing both space exploration and military missile programs. His four-volume memoir is an unusual document–partly, it reads like a high school annual or inside company history edited by someone who wants to be sure no one feels left out and that all the events and tragedies and inside jokes are appropriately recorded. Partly, it is a technological history of rocket development, and partly, it is a study in the practicalities of managing large programs in environments of technical uncertainty and extreme time pressure. Readers should include those interested in: management theory and practice, Russian/Soviet history, life under totalitarianism, the Cold War period, and missile/space technology. Because of the great length of these memoirs, those who read the whole thing will probably be those who are interested in all (or at least most) of the above subject areas. I found the series quite readable; overly-detailed in many places, but always interesting. In his review American astronaut Thomas Stafford said “The Russians are great storytellers, and many of the tales about their space program are riveting. But Boris Chertok is one of the greatest storytellers of them all.”  In this series, Chertok really does suck you into his world.

    Chertok was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1912: his mother had been forced to flee Russia because of her revolutionary (Menshevik) sympathies. The family returned to Russia on the outbreak of the First World War, and some of Chertok’s earliest memories were of the streets filled with red-flag-waving demonstrators in 1917. He grew up on the Moscow River, in what was then a quasi-rural area, and had a pretty good childhood–“we, of course, played “Reds and Whites,” rather than “Cowboys and Indians””–swimming and rowing in the river and developing an early interest in radio and aviation–both an airfield and a wireless station were located nearby. He also enjoyed reading–“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn met with the greatest success, while Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin gave rise to aggressive moods–‘Hey–after the revolution in Europe, we’ll deal with the American slaveholders!” His cousin introduced him to science fiction, and he was especially fond of Aelita (book and silent film), featuring the eponymous Martian beauty.

    Chertok remembers his school years fondly–there were field trips to study art history and architectural styles, plus a military program with firing of both rifles and machine guns–but notes “We studied neither Russian nor world history….Instead we had two years of social science, during which we studied the history of Communist ideas…Our clever social sciences teacher conducted lessons so that, along with the history of the French Revolution and the Paris Commune, we became familiar with the history of the European peoples from Ancient Rome to World War I, and while studying the Decembrist movement and 1905 Revolution in detail we were forced to investigate the history of Russia.” Chertok purused his growing interest in electronics, developing a new radio-receiver circuit which earned him a journal publication and an inventor’s certificate. There was also time for skating and dating–“In those strict, puritanical times it was considered inappropriate for a young man of fourteen or fifteen to walk arm in arm with a young woman. But while skating, you could put your arm around a girl’s waist, whirl around with her on the ice to the point of utter exhaustion, and then accompany her home without the least fear of reproach.”

    Chertok wanted to attend university, but “entrance exams were not the only barrier to admission.” There was a quota system, based on social class, and  “according to the ‘social lineage’ chart, I was the son of a white collar worker and had virtually no hope of being accepted the first time around.” He applied anyhow, hoping that his journal publication and inventor’s certificate in electronics would get him in.” It didn’t–he was told, “Work about three years and come back. We’ll accept you as a worker, but not as the son of a white-collar worker.”

    So Chertok took a job as electrician in a brick factory…not much fun, but he was soon able to transfer to an aircraft factory across the river. He made such a good impression that he was asked to take a Komsomol leadership position, which gave him an opportunity to learn a great deal about manufacturing. The plant environment was a combination of genuinely enlightened management–worker involvement in process improvement, financial decentralization–colliding with rigid policies and political interference. There were problems with absenteeism caused by new workers straight off the farm; these led to a government edict: anyone late to work by 20 minutes or more was to be fired, and very likely prosecuted. There was a young worker named Igor who had real inventive talent; he proposed an improved linkage for engine and propeller control systems, which worked out well. But when Igor overslept (the morning after he got married), no exception could be made. He was fired, and “we lost a man who really had a divine spark.”  Zero tolerance!

    Chertok himself wound up in trouble when he was denounced to the Party for having concealed the truth about his parents–that his father was a bookkeeper in a private enterprise and his mother was a Menshevik. He was expelled from the Komsomol and demoted to a lower-level position.  Later in his career, he would also wind up in difficulties because of his Jewish heritage.

    The memoir includes dozens of memorable characters, including:

    *Lidiya Petrovna Kozlovskaya, a bandit queen turned factory supervisor who became Chertok’s superior after his first demotion.

    *Yakov Alksnis, commander of the Red Air Force–a strong leader who foresaw the danger of a surprise attack wiping out the planes on the ground. He was not to survive the Stalin era.

    *Olga Mitkevich, sent by the regime to become “Central Committee Party organizer” at the factory where Chertok was working…did not make a good first impression (“had the aura of a strict school matron–the terror of girls’ preparatory schools”)..but actually proved to be very helpful to getting work done and later became director of what was then the largest aircraft factory in Europe, which job she performed well. She apparently had too much integrity for the times, and her letters to Stalin on behalf of people unjustly accused resulted in her own arrest and execution.

    *Frau Groettrup, wife of a German rocket scientist, one of the many the Russians took in custody after occupying their sector of Germany. Her demands on the victors were rather unbelievable, what’s more unbelievable is that the Russians actually yielded to most of them.

    *Dmitry Ustinov, a rising star in the Soviet hierarchy–according to Chertok an excellent and visionary executive who had much to do with Soviet successes in missiles and space. (Much later, he would become Defense Minister, in which role he was a strong proponent of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.)

    *Valeriya Golubtsova, wife of the powerful Politburo member Georgiy Malenkov, who was Stalin’s immediate successor. Chertok knew her from school–she was an engineer who became an important government executive–and the connection turned out to be very useful. Chertok respected her professional skills, liked her very much, and devotes several pages to her.

    *Yuri Gagarin, first man to fly in space, and Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman.

    *Overshadowing all the other characters is Sergei Korolev, now considered to be the father of the Soviet space program although anonymous during his lifetime.  Korolev spent 6 years in labor camps, having been arrested when his early rocket experiments didn’t pan out; he was released in 1944.  A good leader, in Chertok’s view, though with a bad temper and given to making threats that he never actually carried out.  His imprisonment must have left deep scars–writing about a field trip to a submarine to observe the firing of a ballistic missile, Chertok says that the celebration dinner with the sub’s officers was the only time he ever saw Korolev really happy.

    Chertok’s memoir encompasses the pre-WWII development of the Soviet aircraft industry…early experiments with a rocket-powered interceptor…the evacuation of factories from the Moscow area in the face of the German invasion…a post-war mission to Germany to acquire as much German rocket technology as possible…the development of a Soviet ballistic missile capability…Sputnik…reconnaissance and communications satellites…the Cuban missile crisis…and the race to the moon.

    Some vignettes, themes, and excerpts I thought were particularly interesting:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Big Government, Biography, Leftism, Management, Military Affairs, Russia, Society, Space, Tech | Comments Off on Sputnik Anniversary Rerun–Book Review: Rockets and People

    When They Came for Those Other People, Updated

    Posted by David Foster on 25th September 2019 (All posts by )

    In 2015, I posted the poem “Into Our Town the Hangman Came,” with comments about its relevance to the current political situation.  I’ve now reposted this poem at Ricochet, with additional commentary about the “Cancel Culture” and a link to a relevant book review by Roger Scruton.

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Leftism, USA | 16 Comments »

    Summer Rerun–Of Energy and Slavery

    Posted by David Foster on 19th September 2019 (All posts by )

    (edited, with updates)

    Democratic candidates are demonizing the energy industry–Bernie Sanders even called for the criminal prosecution of fossil fuel executives–believing or at least implying that America uses fossil fuels only because it is to the benefit of these companies, never considering the vital service that these fuels provide to millions of Americans and indeed to the entire world…which reminds me of an earlier article and discussion.

    Christopher Hayes, writing at The Nation in 2014, asserted a connection between human slavery–in particular, human slavery as practiced in the US prior to 1865–and the use of fossil fuels. Specifically, he argues that the reluctance of energy companies and their investors to lose the financial value of their fossil-fuel assets is directly analogous to the reluctance of pre-Civil-War southern slaveholders to lose the financial value of their human “property.”He also asserts that environmentalists attacking the use of fossil fuels are in a moral and tactical position similar to that of the pre-war Abolitionists.

    His article reminded me of a few things.

    1) Sometime around 1900, a young PR man who had recently been hired by GE in Schenectady realized that he had a problem. He had gotten his job through glowing promises about all the great press coverage he would get for the company. But his boss had called him in and announced that he had “a terrific front-page story” about a 60,000-kilowatt turbine generator that the company had just sold to Commonwealth Edison. The PR man accurately realized that this story would get maybe a paragraph on the financial pages. Looking for ideas, he went to see GE’s legendary research genius, Charles Steinmetz, explaining that headlines need drama, and “there’s nothing dramatic about a generator.”

    Steinmetz picked up a pencil, did a little calculating, and quickly determined that this one rotating machine could do as much physical work as 5.4 million men. The slave population in the US on the eve of the Civil War had been 4.7 million. To the young PR man, Steinmetz said: “I suggest you send out a story that says we are building a single machine that, through the miracle of electricity, will each day do more work than the combined slave population of the nation at the time of the Civil War.”

    2) Frederick Douglass, himself a former slave, visited a shipyard in New Bedford shortly after obtaining his freedom. Here are his comments on observing a cargo being unloaded:

    In a southern port, twenty or thirty hands would have been employed to do what five or six did here, with the aid of a single ox attached to the end of a fall. Main strength, unassisted by skill, is slavery’s method of labor. An old ox, worth eighty dollars, was doing, in New Bedford, what would have required fifteen thousand dollars worth of human bones and muscles to have performed in a southern port.

    3) Speaking of GE, Owen Young was a farm boy who grew up to become chairman of that company. To his biographer Ida Tarbell, he provided a vivid word-picture of what life had been like for a farm wife back in the slightly earlier times. Here, he remembers Monday–wash day:

    He drew from his memory a vivid picture of its miseries: the milk coming into the house from the barn; the skimming to be done; the pans and buckets to be washed; the churn waiting attention; the wash boiler on the stove while the wash tub and its back-breaking device, the washboard, stood by; the kitchen full of steam; hungry men at the door anxious to get at the day’s work and one pale, tired, and discouraged woman in the midst of this confusion.

    The reality is that non-human mechanical energy has been and continues to be a liberating force for humanity. A society which makes little use of nonhuman energy can maintain a small and wealthy aristocracy, but broad-based prosperity requires extensive use of nonhuman energy sources–and with today’s technological realities, a large portion of this energy needs to come from fossil fuels.

    Hayes does not seem to understand, or want to recognize, that the benefits of an energy source accrue not only to the companies and individuals who develop and own that energy source, but also to the people of the society at large. (The benefits of the coal and oil (and later natural gas) burned to power the turbines made by Owen Young’s company did not go only to the resource owners and to GE and the utility companies, but also to the farm housewives about whom he spoke.) At one point in the Hayes article he seems to reach the edge of this understanding — “Before fossil fuels, the only way out of this drudgery was by getting other human beings to do the bulk of the work that the solar regime required of its participants” — but does not really follow up on it. The thrust of his article is that the elimination of fossil fuels would require energy companies to give up something like $10 trillion in wealth. He does not focus on what the American people as a whole would have to give up.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Energy & Power Generation, Environment, Leftism, Tech | 13 Comments »

    Summer Rerun–Author Appreciation: Rose Wilder Lane

    Posted by David Foster on 17th September 2019 (All posts by )

    Rose Wilder Lane, born in 1886 in the Dakota Territory, was the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the “Little House on the Prairie” books. Lane is best known for her writings on political philosophy and has been referred to as a “Founding Mother” of libertarianism; she was also a novelist and the author of several biographies.

    In her article Credo, published in 1936, she describes her political journey, beginning with the words:

    In 1919 I was a communist.

    She was impressed with the idealism of the individual Communists she met, and found their economic logic convincing. But when she visited the Soviet Union in the 1920s, she became disillusioned. And, unlike many visitors to the USSR, she did not conclude that Communism was still a great idea but had just been carried out poorly; rather, she began to grasp the structural flaws with the whole thing.

    In Soviet Georgia, the villager who was her host complained about the growing bureaucracy that was taking more and more men from productive work, and predicted chaos and suffering from the centralizing of economic power in Moscow. At first she saw his attitude as merely “the opposition of the peasant mind to new ideas,” and undertook to convince him of the benefits of central planning. He shook his head sadly.

    It is too big – he said – too big. At the top, it is too small. It will not work. In Moscow there are only men, and man is not God. A man has only a man’s head, and one hundred heads together do not make one great big head. No. Only God can know Russia.”

    This man’s insight prefigures Hayek’s writing about the role of knowledge in society, not to be published until 1944. His comments, her other observations while in the Soviet Union, and her own thinking about the way that economies actually work convinced her that:

    Centralized economic control over multitudes of human beings must therefore be continuous and perhaps superhumanly flexible, and it must be autocratic. It must be government by a swift flow of edicts issued in haste to catch up with events receding into the past before they can be reported, arranged, analyzed and considered, and it will be compelled to use compulsion. In the effort to succeed, it must become such minute and rigorous control of details of individual life as no people will accept without compulsion. It cannot be subject to the intermittent checks, reversals, and removals of men in power which majorities cause in republics.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Civil Society, Europe, History, Leftism, Libertarianism, Political Philosophy, USA | 7 Comments »

    Summer Rerun–Are We Living at the Intersection of These Two Stories?

    Posted by David Foster on 12th September 2019 (All posts by )

    The first story is Robert Heinlein’s The Year of the Jackpot.  A consulting statistician with the unlikely name of Potiphar Breen observes that many strange social trends are on a strong upswing.  One such trend:  young women removing all their clothes in public.  Potiphar sees one such disrobing in process, shoos away the police, covers the girl with his raincoat, then takes her home and asks her why she did it.  She doesn’t know.

    Potiphar informs her that nine other girls have done the same thing, in Los Angeles alone, on that very day…and goes on to tell her that this is a small part of the overall pattern of increasing craziness that he is observing.  A man has sued an entire state legislature for alienation of his wife’s affections–and the judge is letting the suit be tried.  In another state, a bill has been introduced to repeal the laws of atomic energy–not the relevant statutes, but the natural laws concerning nuclear physics. Potiphar shows the girl (her name is Meade) the graphs on which he has plotted the outbreak of bizarre things over time, and notes that many different indicators, all with different cycles, are all converging in this very year.  Still, Meade wants to look at her disrobing episode on an individual basis:  “I want to know why I did what I did!”

    “I think we’re lemmings, Meade,” Potiphar says.  “Ask a lemming why he does it.  If you could get him to slow up his rush to death, even money says he would rationalize his answer as well as any college graduate.  But he does it because he has to–and so do we.”  When Meade tries to defend free will–“I know I have it–I can feel it”, Potiphar continues with another analogy:  “I imagine every little neutron in an atom bomb feels the same way.  He can go spung! or he can sit still, just as he pleases.  But statistical mechanics works out anyhow.  And the bomb goes off.”

    As Meade and Potiphar become romantically involved, Potiphar’s indices of bizarre behavior and events continue to climb. Transvestism by draft-dodgers has resulted in a mass arrest in Chicago and a gigantic mass trial–but the (male) prosecutor shows up in a pinafore.  At the All Souls Community Church of Springfield, the pastor has reinstituted ceremonial nudity.  Two weeks later, a hundred and nine other churches have announced the same policy.  California is suffering a major water crisis, but people continue watering their lawns as usual.  Hardly anyone is interested in the upcoming Republican and Democratic conventions; all the excitement is about the revived Know-Nothing party.

    Foreign affairs, too, are disintegrating into chaos…topped off by a nuclear exchange.  Meade and Potiphar manage to survive, and Potiphar’s cycle charts seem to indicate that things will soon get better…(read the story to see how it comes out.)

    The fictional events of Heinlein’s Year of the Jackpot (set in 1952–it was written in 1947) don’t seem any more bizarre than the kind of headline stories that we are seeing every day in real-life:

    College students cry ‘racism’ when served ‘culturally-incorrect cuisine’ in the cafeteria

    The “Queen of YouTube, famous for eating cereal out of a bathtub of milk that she was bathing in , is granted interviews by both the sitting President and the leading democratic contender

    Woman loses her job and is threatened with having her children taken away, because she let her three sons (11,9,and 5) play by themselves in a playground next to her apartment building.

    Seven-year-old boy suspended from school for chewing a breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun

    Previously-male person selected as Woman of the Year

     

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, France, Human Behavior, Leftism, USA | 7 Comments »

    Creativity, Curiosity, and Political Philosophy

    Posted by David Foster on 10th September 2019 (All posts by )

    Roger Kimball was struck by a news story noting that while Bernie Sanders spent his honeymoon in the Soviet Union, he never made any attempt to visit the dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn in Vermont.

    “Some comments about that story attribute Mr. Sanders’s negligence to ideology, as if he, being a fan of the Soviet Union, made a silent protest by ignoring the famous anti-Soviet figure in his midst. But I think the deeper reason for his neglect was a quality of the socialist or communist or revolutionary sensibility that is too little remarked. I mean its ingrained, indeed its programmatic, lack of curiosity about other people.

    The philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, in a thoughtful anatomy of the French Revolution, is one of the few people to underscore this feature of the totalitarian habit of mind. “This absence of curiosity,” Mr. Scruton notes, “is a permanent characteristic of the revolutionary consciousness.””

    Read the whole thing.

    Richard Fernandez has related thoughts dealing with uncertainty and the future.

    “From the point of view of information theory, the future is an alien signal. But unlike the characters in the movie, the Chinese, Russian, European, and American elites are unwilling to start at a point of maximum entropy. Rather, they want to control the future and load the dice by constraining it with their legacy theories. That is because the Woke, EU, Chinese Communist Party, and the Kremlin are convinced they already know the future and the only difficulty is in getting the recalcitrant deplorables to go along.”

    Fernandez makes the important point that “Real discovery consists not in what is forgotten or predicted, but in coming upon the never imagined.”

    There is no place for the watchmaker among the gears of the watch.

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

    The Way Things Were and Are

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 4th September 2019 (All posts by )

    Separately, the Daughter Unit and I watched a series on Netflix (don’t hate on us, there’s still some good stuff there, and I don’t want to bail out until we’ve milked it dry) about the last Czars of Russia – specifically the series which mixed fairly serious commentary about the Russian Revolution with interestingly high-end reenactments of events in the life of the last czar and his family. (Seriously, though – I doubt very much that Nicky and Alix made mad hot whoopee on a fur coat underneath his official czarsorial desk, while the household staff made a heroic effort to ignore the amatory noises coming from behind closed doors. Just my .02. She was a Victorian, for Ghod’s sake. Really; Queen V.’s granddaughter. Who privately thought that Dear Alix wasn’t in the least up to the challenge of being Czarina of all the Russians; Alix may have waxed poetically amatory about her affection and trust in Father Grigory Rasputin, but to do the nasty on the floor, in daylight? Even with your wedded husband? Just nope. Nope.)
    I will accept that the orgiastic interludes involving Rasputin were likely and wholly believable. And that Nicky and Alix loved each other, that their four daughters and son with medical issues all loved each other with a passionate devotion that lasts through this world and the next. The last shattering sequences in the Ipatiav House rings true. That was the way it was, and that was how it ended. (I reviewed a book on this, here.)
    I was meditating on all of this – with a consideration towards royalty; the old-fashioned kind, and the new-mint variety. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Book Notes, Civil Society, Conservatism, Culture, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, History, Leftism, Media, Tea Party | 18 Comments »