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    New! – Your Mildly Anxious Pre-Election Tech-Grouch Haikus

    Posted by Jonathan on 5th November 2018 (All posts by )

    Elections coming.
    Bad or worse – not good or bad –
    Is the real question.

    —-

    New Google inbox
    Maximizes confusion.
    But, Google knows best.

    —-

    Social media:
    People at each other’s throats
    Over little things.

    —-

    That damned noise again. . .
    Some app, can’t ID which one.
    This is the future?

    —-

    (Feel free to add your contributions in the comments.)
     

    Posted in Poetry, Politics, Society, Tech | 9 Comments »

    Swipe Left if You Support (that other political party)

    Posted by David Foster on 16th October 2018 (All posts by )

    Four years ago, I posted But Would You Want Your Daughter to Marry One?, which showed a sharp increase in the % of parents who would be displeased if their son or daughter were to marry a supporter of the opposing party.  I was reminded of this post by the launch of a dating app called Donald Daters, intended for single supporters of President Trump.  It seems to fill a need: one early user remarked that he would meet women on other dating apps, but often on the first date, politics would come up.  “Literally didn’t matter if I had cured cancer for the whole world or if I was the best-looking man on the planet, these ladies turned into hardcore Trump-hating people and needless to say, we didn’t see each other again because it was a dealbreaker for them.”

    Another user says just a few years ago, he didn’t find that people cared so much about political opinions. “It just shocks me that people aren’t willing to listen to each other anymore,” he said. “So might as well just look for someone with the same set of ethics, morals and common sense.”  (He says he would absolutely be open to dating someone who wasn’t a Trump fan.)

    (If you’re interested in using this app yourself, you might want to wait a while–from the article, it sounds like there may be some early security issues with the product.)

    See also my related post Life in the Fully Politicized Society, continued.

    Posted in Human Behavior, Society, USA | 15 Comments »

    Sputnik Anniversary Rerun – Book Review: Rockets and People

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

    Today being the 61st  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 Russian 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, Transportation | 4 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Lewis vs Haldane

    Posted by David Foster on 15th September 2018 (All posts by )

    J B S Haldane was an eminent British scientist (population genetics) and a Marxist. C S Lewis was…well, you probably already know who C S Lewis was.  In 1946, Haldane published an article critiquing a series of novels by Lewis known as the Ransom Trilogy, and particularly the last book of the series, That Hideous Strength. Lewis responded in a letter which remained unpublished for many of years. All this may sound ancient and estoteric, but I believe the Lewis/Haldane controversy is very relevant to our current political and philosophical landscape.

    In That Hideous Strength–my review is here–Mark, a young sociologist, is hired by a government agency called NICE–the National Institute for Coordinated Experimentation–having as its stated mission the application of science to social problems.  In the novel, NICE turns out to be a conspiracy devoted to very diabolical purposes, as Mark gradually discovers.   See the review for more detail

    Here are some of the highlights of the Lewis/Haldane controversy:

    1)Money and Power. In his article, Haldane attacks Lewis for the latter’s refusal to absolutely condemn usury, and celebrates the fact that “Mammon has been cleared off a sixth of our planet’s surface”…clearly referring to the Soviet Union. Here’s part of Lewis’s response:

    The difference between us is that the Professor sees the ‘World’ purely in terms of those threats and those allurements which depend on money. I do not. The most ‘worldly’ society I have ever lived in is that of schoolboys: most worldly in the cruelty and arrogance of the strong, the toadyism and mutual treachery of the weak, and the unqualified snobbery of both. Nothing was so base that most members of the school proletariat would not do it, or suffer it, to win the favour of the school aristocracy: hardly any injustice too bad for the aristocracy to practise. But the class system did not in the least depend on the amount of pocket money. Who needs to care about money if most of the things he wants will be offered by cringing servility and the remainder can be taken by force? 

    This lesson has remained with me all my life. That is one of the reasons why I cannot share Professor Haldanes exaltation at the banishment of Mammon from ‘a sixth of our planet’s surface’. I have already lived in a world from which Mammon was banished: it was the most wicked and miserable I have yet known. If Mammon were the only devil, it would be another matter. But where Mammon vacates the throne, how if Moloch takes his place? As Aristotle said, ‘Men do not become tyrants in order to keep warm’. All men, of course, desire pleasure and safety. But all men also desire power and all men desire the mere sense of being ‘in the know’ or the ‘inner ring’, of not being ‘outsiders’: a passion insufficiently studied and the chief theme of my story. When the state of society is such that money is the passport to all these prizes, then of course money will be the prime temptation. But when the passport changes, the desires will remain.

    2)Centralized scientific planning. Haldane: “Mr. Lewis’s idea is clear enough. The application of science to human affairs can only lead to hell.” While denying that this is a correct statement of his views, Lewis goes on to say:

    Every tyrant must begin by claiming to have what his victims respect and to give what they want. The majority in most modern countries respect science and want to be planned. And, therefore, almost by definition, if any man or group wishes to enslave us it will of course describe itself as ‘scientific planned democracy.

    and

    My fears of such a tyranny will seem to the Professor either insincere or pusillanimous. For him the danger is all in the opposite direction, in the chaotic selfishness of individualism.  I must try to explain why I fear more the disciplined cruelty of some ideological oligarchy. The Professor has his own explanation of this; he thinks I am unconsciously motivated by the fact  that I ‘stand to lose by social change’. And indeed it would be hard for me to welcome a change which might well consign me to a concentration camp. I might add that it would be likewise easy for the Professor to welcome a change which might place him in the highest rank of an omnicompetent oligarchy. That is why the motive game is so uninteresting. Each side can go on playing—ad nauseam, but when all the mud has been flung every man’s views still remain to be considered on their merits.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Conservatism, Leftism, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Society | 16 Comments »

    Hate Crime Speech

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 10th September 2018 (All posts by )

    When it first became politically trendy to back passage of ‘hate-crime’ legislation, I privately thought it a bad idea, while understanding completely why it was an appealing notion, especially for political and social entities which presumed to act on behalf of those threatened by weaponized hate. The fear in such communities was real, every bit as real as the threats, the vandalism, the lynch mobs, and disenfranchisement. It would take a politician with balls of brass to stand up before a group who justifiably were frightened by all that, and discount those fears. It was the easy way out for politicians, the media and social organizations to portray hate crime legislation as a good and discount those doubts held by those of us with inclinations toward the philosophical. A crime was a crime: there were already laws on the books dealing with vandalism, murder, arson and so on. A motivation for committing a crime ought to be of interest only in establishing the guilt of the perpetrator, not for piling on additional penalties. We do not have windows to peer accurately into the souls of others. Essentially, classifying a crime as a ‘hate crime’ was punishing the thought, over and above the actual crime itself. I didn’t think it was a good idea then, and still don’t think so – especially given the overwhelming numbers of so-called “hate crimes” which turn out to be either deliberate hoaxes, or the deeply imaginative letting their imaginations run away from them. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Big Government, Civil Society, Conservatism, Crony Capitalism, Customer Service, Just Unbelievable, Leftism, Society | 7 Comments »

    Poisoned Fruit of the Poisoned Tree

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 25th August 2018 (All posts by )

    This week, the month-long mystery of the missing college student, Mollie Tibbits, was sadly resolved, with the discovery of her body in a local cornfield. Developments in the search for her were updated frequently over the last few weeks, and always featured at the top, or near to the top of headlines on the English tabloid, the Daily Mail. Which, for all its’ eccentricities, abuse of grammar, spelling, penchant for the flamingly obvious, providing Piers Morgan with a salary, extreme Kardashian-worship, and light-to-moderate Trump disdain, does cover the American news scene without much fear or favor.
    The longer the mystery of her disappearance went on, though – the greater the chance of a less than happy ending. And as it turns out that the chief suspect in her kidnapping and murder is a man with a distinctly dodgy background – an illegal alien of Mexican background, whose’ identity papers are something of a mystery. His American employers seemed to believe that everything was hunky-dory; this lends the cynical among us to assume that such paperwork must have been better forgeries than the usual run.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Society, Conservatism, Current Events, Immigration, Media, North America, Politics, Society, The Press | 13 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: The Age of Blather

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

    Diana Senechal, guest-blogging at Joanne Jacobs, told the following story:

    I run two lunchtime literature clubs at my school. The fourth graders just finished reading A Little Princess. During our discussions, I encourage delving into the text and discussing it on its own terms. I am not a big fan of “accountable talk,” “making predictions,” “making connections,” and so forth when they assume precedence over the subject matter itself.

    One student brought up the part where Sara spends her money on hot buns for a beggar girl. “She made a self-to-self connection,” the student said. I felt sorry that students are learning such ghastly terminology, however well meant. Why are students not encouraged to say, “She understood how the girl felt” or “She felt compassion for the girl”?

    Why, indeed? It’s bad enough to impose verbiage like “self-to-self connection” on college students: to do it to a 4th grader is really unforgiveable. It adds nothing to understanding–indeed, it very likely interferes with the true understanding and appreciation of the story by creating an emotional distance.

    Strange, awkward, and unnatural verbal formulations, used ritualistically and without contributing to understanding, are becoming increasingly common in our society: although this phenomenon is arguably at its worst in education, it is by no means limited to that field. These word and phrases are not similar to the traditional jargon of a profession or trade. “Self-to-self connections” is not the same kind of thing as “amp” or even “kanban.”

    Mark Helprin, in an essay about art, writes about people who are so obsessed with their tools and techniques that they lose sight of the substance of the work:

    Modernism is by necessity obsessed with form, much like a craftsman obsessed with his tools and materials. In my climbing days we used to call people like that “equipment weenies.” These days you can see it in fly-fishing, where not a few people go out once a year with $5,000-worth of equipment to catch (maybe) $5-worth of fish. What should have been the story of the man, the stream, and the fish becomes instead a romance between the man and his tools. In this century the same thing happened in art.

    Athough Helprin is talking here about art, but the same excessive focus on methodology is visible in other areas as well.

    Who are the people who perpetrate and cling to these fake-erudite verbal formulations? I suspect that they are generally those who have an education which is extensive–in terms of total years spent in the classroom–but not deep.

    Bruce Fleming, who teaches English at the U.S. Naval Academy, has some interesting thoughts on the teaching/misteaching of literature, which are highly relevant to this topic. Excerpt:

    Literary study in the classroom nowadays offers views of the work of literature rather like the views of Mt. Fuji in Hokusai’s celebrated spring series on “100 Views of Mt. Fuji.” In each view, the mountain, while present, is frequently tiny and in a corner, viewed (in the most famous print) beyond the crest of a wave whose foam seems to make fingers at the edges, or (in another) through a hoop that a barrel-maker is shaping.

    Those are not the front-and-center shots on a postcard. They foreground the angle of the mountain, its treatment, much the way a literature professor does with a funky viewpoint that got him or her tenure. Of course the postcard shot has its own point, but in a real sense it’s more neutral than the angled treatment. It doesn’t push our noses in its approach: It defers to the object it is depicting. We’re far more conscious of the treatment of Mt. Fuji in an artsy Hokusai print than we are in a postcard shot. And that means, we’re all but compelled to see the mountain the way it’s presented, rather than being able to work on our own presentation. That’s why literary studies is intrinsically coercive.

    I think the blatherification of America is an important issue. It inhibits clear thought. It is harmful to the enjoyment of art and of literature. It is destructive of intelligent policy-making in both business and government.

    What say you? Do you agree that blatherification is happening and that it matters? Thoughts on causes and possible countermeasures?

    (links for the Helprin and Fleming quotes removed–no longer working)

    Posted in Academia, Education, Society | 6 Comments »

    Wilder Othering

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 14th July 2018 (All posts by )

    I cannot say how much the ditching of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name for a yearly award for the best in published books for children and young adults distresses and disappoints me. I am one of those millions of readers who read and adored the Little House books early on, which various volumes my parents presented to me for Christmas and my birthday from the time that I could read – basically from the age of eight on. I would sit down and read the latest gift from cover to cover almost at once, so much did I love the books. After so many decades of honor, respect, and dedicated fanship, after having basically created (along with her daughter) a whole YA genre – historical adventure novels set on the 19th century frontier – LIW is now writer-non-grata, in the eyes of a segment of the American Library Association which deals primarily with library services to kids. Henceforward, sayeth the Association for Library Service to Children, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award will now be called The Children’s Literature Legacy Award, or something equally forgettable. The public reason given for this are two-fold, as nearly as I can deduce.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Americas, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Civil Society, Culture, Current Events, History, Libertarianism, Society | 20 Comments »

    On Public Display of MAGA

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

    San Antonio, the town that I am pleased to say is my place of residence, made the national and international news this week – and not in a good way. My particular quadrant of suburban San Antonio was the scene of the now-notorious MAGA-hat-stealing-and-drink-throwing-incident. (A good selection of the resulting headlines are here )
    The Whattaburger outlet where this took place is about two and a half miles from my house, adjacent to a brand-new Walmart, and the bank branch I used to do business with, and around the corner from the bank branch that I now do business with. The arrested-and-released-on-bail Kino Jimenez lives in another outlaying suburb – apparently with his mother. He also seems to have committed a series of prior offenses; not exactly an upright citizen, it appears, and one with extraordinarily poor impulse control. Looking at the video of this incident – and keeping in mind that nothing good happens at 2 AM – I see a rather thuggish Hispanic guy getting his jollies picking on a couple of weedy Anglo teenagers in an all-but-empty-restaurant in the wee hours. I’d venture a guess that if it hadn’t been the MAGA hat, it would likely have been something else. Bullies always find an easy target, and a ready justification for their thuggish impulses. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, Conservatism, Crime and Punishment, Current Events, Human Behavior, Leftism, Society, Texas, Trump | 33 Comments »

    An American Version of the Habsburg Empire?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Discuss

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

    The Last Realist

    Posted by Grurray on 17th May 2018 (All posts by )

  • ©2002 Everett Raymond Kinstler Source

  •  
     

    By now you’ve all seen, heard, and read that the great Tom Wolfe died this week. His social satire and sardonic wit carved out a distinctive path through post-modern America. Wolfe championed a literary style that was part journalism, part acerbic effervescence. Few (if any) recent writers were better able to craft stories by such vivid portrayals of particular people in particular places at particular times.

    Here is Tom Wolfe in one of his many interviews with William F. Buckley on Firing Line. Just two mid-century Yale Men parlaying over the Black Panthers, Bernstein, Balzac, Homo Ludens, and the Mets disappointing season.

    The question by the gentleman at around 39:45 is actually a good one and a complaint Wolfe faced his entire career. As a chronicler, he had a tendency to paint the events into flourishes that steered the situations toward the underlying themes that he was using to make his broader point. Conversely, as a novelist he was accused of conflating ordinary details into fantastic baroque ideals.

    There’s no denying that Wolfe was the master of expansive simplification. The principles of his style required a complete accounting of all the dimensions of the scene.

    The culmination of that manifesto was nowhere more on display than in his masterpiece The Bonfire of the Vanities. Here is snippet from chapter 5 following Kramer walking into the DA’s office.

    The guard buzzed Kramer through the gate, and Kramer’s running shoes
    squeaked on the marble floor. The guard gave them a dubious onceover. As
    usual, Kramer was carrying his leather shoes in an A&P shopping bag.
     
    Beyond the entryway, the level of grandeur in the District Attorney’s
    Office went up and down. The office of Weiss himself was bigger and showier,
    thanks to its paneled walls, than the Mayor of New York’s. The bureau chiefs,
    for Homicide, Investigations, Major Offenses, Supreme Court, Criminal Court,
    and Appeals, had their share of the paneling and the leather or school-of
    leather couches and the Contract Sheraton armchairs. But by the time you got
    down to an assistant district attorney, like Larry Kramer, you were looking at
    Good Enough for Government Work when it came to interior decoration.
     
    The two assistant district attorneys who shared the office with him, Ray
    Andriutti and Jimmy Caughey, were sitting sprawled back in the swivel chairs.
    There was just enough floor space in the room for three metal desks, three
    swivel chairs, four filing cabinets, an old coat stand with six savage hooks
    sticking out from it, and a table bearing a Mr. Coffee machine and a
    promiscuous heap of plastic cups and spoons and a gummy collage of paper
    napkins and white sugar envelopes and pink saccharine envelopes stuck to a
    maroon plastic tray with a high sweet-smelling paste composed of spilled coffee
    and Cremora powder. Both Andriutti and Caughey were sitting with their legs
    crossed in the same fashion. The left ankle was resting on top of the right
    knee, as if they were such studs, they couldn’t have crossed their legs any
    farther if they had wanted to. This was the accepted sitting posture of
    Homicide, the most manly of the six bureaus of the District Attorney’s Office.
     
    Both had their jackets off and hung with the perfect give-a-shit
    carelessness on the coatrack. Their shirt collars were unbuttoned, and their
    necktie knots were pulled down an inch or so. Andriutti was rubbing the back
    of his left arm with his right hand, as if it itched. In fact, he was feeling
    and admiring his triceps, which he pumped up at least three times a week by
    doing sets of French curls with dumbbells at the New York Athletic Club.
    Andriutti could afford to work out at the Athletic Club, instead of on a carpet
    between a Dracaena fragrans tub and a convertible couch, because he
    didn’t have a wife and a child to support in an $888-a-month ant colony in the
    West Seventies. He didn’t have to worry about his triceps and his deltoids and
    his lats deflating. Andriutti liked the fact that when he reached around behind
    one of his mighty arms with the other hand, it made the widest muscles of his
    back, the lats, the latissima dorsae, fan out until they practically split his
    shirt, and his pectorals hardened into a couple of mountains of pure muscle.
    Kramer and Andriutti were of the new generation, in which the terms triceps,
    deltoids, latissima dorsae, and pectoralis major were better known than the
    names of the major planets. Andriutti rubbed his triceps a hundred and twenty
    times a day, on the average.

    And that’s just the scene and status. The dialogue continues with the obligatory obscenities and a glimpse of “donkey loyalty”, as Wolfe calls the tribal ties that contrast the “Favor Bank” of the legal system.

    Rest in Peace Tom Wolfe, and thank you for your works that contributed to our awareness and understanding of this ever perplexing world.

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    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Civil Society, Culture, Leftism, Lit Crit, Obits, Rhetoric, Society, Urban Issues, USA | 11 Comments »

    The Custom of the Country

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 21st April 2018 (All posts by )

    I always had rather a soft spot in me for Barbara Bush; the exemplary old-school upper-middle-class good wife, with her triple strand of pearls, and the way that she didn’t give a damn about going prematurely white. That was the way she was, and she didn’t give two pins. Class – that’s what she had, the class of a previous generation; a class now belatedly appreciated and mourned, now that the upholders and exemplars of it are almost now gone from between us. Among my transitory friends in Korea was a security policeman who had come off the White House protection squad at the end of the senior Bush administration: he adored Barbara, who called him Timmy – possibly the only person on earth besides his mother who did so, as he was one of these six-and-a-half foot tall human hazards in traffic, who looked rather like an Irish-Anglo version of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
    So – I took brief note of her passing; yes, good to die at home, refusing anything but palliative care, among family, and those whom hold you in affection. I am certain that Timmy – wherever he is now – is riffling through his fond memories of his particular First Lady and drinking a toast to her. A good long life, well lived, a loving marriage, well-adjusted and successful children, and grandchildren; what more could a brief life on this earth offer? I also drink a toast to Barbara Bush, and convey my sincerest condolences to those who loved her, a circle which extends far beyond those of her blood family. (I wish, though, that she had not been so catty about Sarah Palin, but I guess she was just going along with the old-line Establishment GOP crowd.)

    This appears to be a simple social courtesy too much for a certain professor of … something or other at a California State University. Oh – it’s the one in Fresno. Fresno – like Bakersfield, it’s own punishment. (Yes, I am letting my latent California snobbishness show. Yes, there are places in California too infra dig for words. Fresno is one of them, although it did feature in a hilarious and all-star parody of 1980s dramas like Dynasty and Dallas. I continue.) The tweets posted by this so-called professor (of what, pray tell? Oh, dear – of English.) Couldn’t prove it through the content of her tweets, which largely appear barely literate speak for themselves – mostly a narrative of vicious ignorance and malice. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Current Events, Customer Service, Education, Leftism, Media, Society | 13 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 »

    Square your shoulders, stand up straight: Only Take What You Deserve

    Posted by Ginny on 25th February 2018 (All posts by )

    An interesting history.

    Posted in Crony Capitalism, Current Events, Miscellaneous, Society | 17 Comments »

    I Am a Barbarian

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 23rd December 2017 (All posts by )

    Scott, James C. Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017.

    Scott has hit another metaphorical grand slam with this one, a worthily disconcerting follow-on to his earlier work. I have previously read (in order of publication, rather than the order in which I encountered them) The Moral Economy of the Peasant, Seeing Like a State, and Two Cheers for Anarchism, and found them congenial. Scott is particularly good at encouraging a non-elite viewpoint deeply skeptical of State power, and in Against the Grain he applies this to the earliest civilizations. Turns out they loom large in our imagination due to the a posteriori distribution of monumental ruins and written records—structures that were often built by slaves and records created almost entirely to facilitate heavy taxation and conscription. Outside of “civilization” were the “barbarians,” who turn out to have simply been those who evaded control by the North Koreas and Venezuelas of their time, rather than the untutored and truculent caricatures of the “civilized” histories.

    By these criteria, the United States of America is predominately a barbarian nation. In the order given above:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Anglosphere, Big Government, Book Notes, Civil Society, Crony Capitalism, Culture, Current Events, Education, Entrepreneurship, History, Immigration, International Affairs, Latin America, Law Enforcement, Libertarianism, Markets and Trading, Military Affairs, National Security, North America, Political Philosophy, Politics, Society, Systems Analysis, Tradeoffs, Transportation, USA | 7 Comments »

    Technology, Work, and Society – The Age of Transition

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

    I recently read an intriguing book concerned with the exponential advances in technology and the impact thereof on human society.  The author believes that the displacement of human labor by technology is in its very early stages, and sees little limit to the process.  He is concerned with how this will affect–indeed, has already affected–the relationship between the sexes and of parents and children, as well as the ability of ordinary people to earn a decent living.  It’s a thoughtful analysis by someone who clearly cares a great deal about the well-being of his fellow citizens.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, Business, Capitalism, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, History, Society, Tech | 14 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 »

    Professors and the Pornography of Power

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

    Jonathan Haidt on Identity Politics:

    Today’s identity politics . . . teaches the exact opposite of what we think a liberal arts education should be. When I was at Yale in the 1980s, I was given so many tools for understanding the world. By the time I graduated, I could think about things as a utilitarian or as a Kantian, as a Freudian or a behaviorist, as a computer scientist or as a humanist. I was given many lenses to apply to any given question or problem.

    But what do we do now? Many students are given just one lens—power. Here’s your lens, kid. Look at everything through this lens. Everything is about power. Every situation is analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people. This is not an education. This is induction into a cult. It’s a fundamentalist religion. It’s a paranoid worldview that separates people from each other and sends them down the road to alienation, anxiety and intellectual impotence. . . .

    Read the whole thing.

    So why is the single-lens approach so attractive to many academics?

    More than 50 years ago, C S Lewis wrote about some similar tendencies that he observed in British primary education, in his book The Abolition of Man.  Referring to two textbook authors who he had critiqued, he remarked that “literary criticism is difficult, and what they actually do is very much easier.”  Indeed, it is surely easier to base one’s classes around fashionable themes than around serious intellectual topics, and it probably results in better student reviews, as well.

    I’m also reminded of something asserted by Andre Maurois:  people who are highly intelligent, but not in any way creative…who are not capable of formulating a system of thought on their own…tend to throw themselves voraciously on those systems they come across, and to apply them more vigorously than would their originators.

    Particularly given the vast expansion of higher education in recent decades, it does seem likely that a lot of academics–perhaps the majority–do fall into the “intelligent but not creative” category, and hence will be eager system-adopters rather than objective analyzers and integrators of systems.  People of this sort also probably have a tendency to reify abstractions…to treat some categorization  or conceptual model, which may be useful under particular circumstances, as if it were actually something real and tangible.

    Posted in Academia, Deep Thoughts, Leftism, Society | 36 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

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

    A law professor writes about undoing the dis-education of Millenials.

    Small liberal arts colleges:  self-destruction via runaway administration.

    Ammo Grrrll doesn’t share the obsession about ‘people who look like me’.

    Are we living in the dystopia that Young Adult fiction warns us about?

    The Assistant Village Idiot has some thoughts about local aristocracy and the nationalization of culture.

    Bolshevism and Militant Islam.  Some thoughts about historical parallels from Niall Ferguson, with comments by Stuart Schneiderman.

    The current Senate tax bill draft contains some very bad ideas about taxation of employee stock options and restricted stock grants.

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Education, History, Islam, Leftism, Russia, Society | 3 Comments »

    A Seemingly-Safe Target

    Posted by David Foster on 12th November 2017 (All posts by )

    I’ve written previously about the level of fear, contempt, and anger that many educated/urban/upper-middle-class people demonstrate toward Christians and rural people (especially southerners.) This complex of negative emotions often greatly exceeds anything that these same people feel toward radical Islamists or dangerous rogue-state governments.

    A rather classic example of this was recently observed by a commenter at a post by Sarah Hoyt:

    One of my relatives posted a snarky meme during the day or two that the Dreamer program being ended was trending showing some hillbilly/redneck types saying they were going to get a tech job now that the Dreamers were out of the way. The meme was presented in a way that you were supposed to say “Ha ha, look at the poor, ugly, unintelligent peasants thinking they can get a tech job”

    (direct link to comment)

    Posted in Christianity, Leftism, Society | 20 Comments »

    Culture, Innovation, Victory, and Defeat

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

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

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

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

    Here are de Grandallana’s key points:

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

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

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

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

    Read the rest of this entry »

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

    “Smartphones Are Killing Americans, But Nobody’s Counting”

    Posted by Jonathan on 17th October 2017 (All posts by )

    Amid a historic spike in U.S. traffic fatalities, federal data on the danger of distracted driving are getting worse“:

    Over the past two years, after decades of declining deaths on the road, U.S. traffic fatalities surged by 14.4 percent. In 2016 alone, more than 100 people died every day in or near vehicles in America, the first time the country has passed that grim toll in a decade. Regulators, meanwhile, still have no good idea why crash-related deaths are spiking: People are driving longer distances but not tremendously so; total miles were up just 2.2 percent last year. Collectively, we seemed to be speeding and drinking a little more, but not much more than usual. Together, experts say these upticks don’t explain the surge in road deaths.
     
    There are however three big clues, and they don’t rest along the highway. One, as you may have guessed, is the substantial increase in smartphone use by U.S. drivers as they drive. From 2014 to 2016, the share of Americans who owned an iPhone, Android phone, or something comparable rose from 75 percent to 81 percent.
     
    The second is the changing way in which Americans use their phones while they drive. These days, we’re pretty much done talking. Texting, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are the order of the day—all activities that require far more attention than simply holding a gadget to your ear or responding to a disembodied voice. By 2015, almost 70 percent of Americans were using their phones to share photos and follow news events via social media. In just two additional years, that figure has jumped to 80 percent.

    Time will tell what’s really going on but the smartphone distraction hypothesis seems likely. Walk around an urban area and you see many drivers who are obviously distracted. It’s not just texting. People are glued to navigation apps, watching videos, doing all kinds of mentally absorbing activities with their phones while they are behind the wheel. Some people are clearly incapable of having a phone conversation without losing focus on whatever else they are doing, such as driving. They look like pilots flying on instruments down busy streets. Quite a few pedestrians are looking at their phones too, which raises the question how many smartphone-related accidents they are responsible for.

    I’m guessing there will eventually be a cultural backlash against distracted driving as there was with drinking and driving, and that rules, customs and technology will be changed to reduce the danger. In the meantime it seems like a good idea to be extra careful.

    Posted in Culture, Society, Statistics | 47 Comments »

    Sputnik Anniversary Rerun – Book Review: Rockets and People

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

    Today being the 60th 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 Russian 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, Transportation | 15 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 28th September 2017 (All posts by )

    Things that were once common knowledge…and now are not

    Advice on leadership for Naval Academy cadets…applicable in other walks of life as well

    A time-lapse video of 30 days at sea

    Animated films:  a transition both in technologies and in implicit political messages

    Who murdered beauty?…an analysis of some trends in the world of art

    Cedar Sanderson asks What do Environmentalists, JRR Tolkein, Luddites, and Progressives all have in common?

    Company towns, then and now

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Business, Deep Thoughts, Film, Science, Society, Tech, Transportation | 8 Comments »

    Remedial Reading for a ‘New Yorker’ Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Such thoughts are anathema to the Institutional Left.

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

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