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  • Archive for the 'Society' Category

    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.

    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 »

    The Pause

    Posted by Jonathan on 26th July 2017 (All posts by )

    Since Trump was elected it seems that anyone I’m speaking with who wants to bring politics into a conversation, and who doesn’t know me well, and who (I’m guessing) doesn’t like Trump, will make a remark about “these days” or “the situation” or something along those lines, and expect to continue (or not) the conversation in a political direction based on my response. At least that’s how it seems to me in my purplish part of the country. I don’t react when this happens. There may be a brief pause in the conversation. We continue with our nonpolitical topic or move on to another one.

    I’d bet that many of the readers of this blog have had similar experiences. My question is whether this type of experience is the inverse of what politically left-of-center people experienced when Obama was president. Is it?

    Discuss.

    Posted in Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Leftism, Obama, Politics, Society, Trump | 11 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Some Short Book Reviews

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

    Three mini-reviews in this batch:

    “Vanity Fair,” William Makepeace Thackery
    “The Promised Land,” Mary Antin
    “Metropolitan Corridor,” John Stillgoe

    I picked up Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair” from the shelf where it had lain unread, lo these many years, and spent two weeks utterly immersed in the world of Becky Sharp and her friends associates victims. I’d never read the book before, but did see a made-for-tv movie based on it several years ago…IIRC, the movie was far more centered around Becky herself, whereas the book develops the other characters to a considerably greater degree.

    Very funny (once you get used to the dense writing style) and utterly unsentimental: Thackeray called it “a novel without a hero.” Those looking for escapism by reading about the elegant lifestyles of the English upper classes should definitely look elsewhere: for all others, this book is highly recommended.
    ***
    “The Promised Land,” by Mary Antin, is the story of the author’s journey from Polotzk, Russia (a town which was part of the Jewish Pale of Settlement) to Boston, Massachussetts, with her family, in the late 1800s. Antin was a keen observer and a vivid writer–particularly impressive given that she had no exposure to English until she was 13. “The Promised Land” was published in 1912, having been first serialized in the Atlantic Monthly.

    Here’s a description of tenement life:

    It must not be supposed that I enjoyed any degree of privacy, because I had half a room to myself. We were six in the five rooms; we were bound to be always in each other’s way…I could stand at any time in the unswept entrance hall and tell, from an analysis of the medley of sounds and smells that issued from doors ajar, what was going on in the several flats from below up. That guttural, scolding voice, unremittent as the hissing of a steam pipe, is Mrs. Rasnosky. I make a guess that she is chastising the infant Isaac for taking a second lump of sugar in his tea. Spam! Bam! Yes, and she is rubbing in her objections with the flat of her hand. That blubbering and moaning, accompanying an elephantine tread, is fat Mrs. Casey, second floor, home drunk from an afternoon out, in fear of the vengeance of Mr. Casey; to propitiate whom she is burning a pan of bacon, as the choking fumes and outrageous sizzling testify. I hear a feeble whining, interrupted by long silences. It is that scabby baby on the third floor, fallen out of bed again, with nobody home to pick him up.

    To escape from these various horrors I ascend to the roof, where bacon and babies and child-beating are not. But there I find two figures in calico wrappers, with bare red arms akimbo, a basket of wet clothes in front of each, and only one empty clothes-line between them.

    …and of her feeling of freedom and opportunity and the wonders of the public library:

    Dover Street was never really my residence—at least, not the whole of it. It happened to be the nook where my bed was made, but I inhabited the City of Boston. In the pearl-misty morning, in the ruby-red evening, I was empress of all I surveyed from the roof of the tenement house. I could point in any direction and name a friend who would welcome me there. Off towards the northwest, in the direction of Harvard Bridge, which some day I should cross on my way to Radcliffe College, was one of my favorite palaces, whither I resorted every day after school.

    A low, wide-spreading building with a dignified granite front it was, flanked on all sides by noble old churches, museums, and school-houses, harmoniously disposed around a spacious triangle, called Copley Square. Two thoroughfares that came straight from the green suburbs swept by my palace, one on either side, converged at the apex of the triangle, and pointed off, past the Public Garden, across the historic Common, to the domed State House sitting on a height.

    It was my habit to go very slowly up the low, broad steps to the palace entrance, pleasing my eyes with the majestic lines of the building, and lingering to read again the carved inscriptions: Public Library—Built by the People—Free to All.

    Did I not say it was my palace? Mine, because I was a citizen; mine, though I was born an alien; mine, though I lived on Dover Street. My palace—mine!

    A very interesting book, recommended for all. (The full text is online at the Gutenberg Project–includes a number of pictures which weren’t included in my hard-copy edition of the book.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, History, Immigration, Society, Transportation | 2 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Applied Networking in the Early 1900s

    Posted by David Foster on 23rd June 2017 (All posts by )

    An on-line discussion board in 1907

    Interesting that girls as well as boys were participants in this network.

    Using networking technology for a stock trading edge, 1914-style

    A precursor of today’s high-frequency trading

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Society, Tech | Comments Off on Summer Rerun: Applied Networking in the Early 1900s

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 26th May 2017 (All posts by )

    (Worthwhile but not very cheerful reading, for the most part, I’m afraid)

    “Progressives” as Minor Nobles of Exquisite Breeding and Dubious Character

    Related:  The New Class War

    Ex-Muslims in America meeting in secret for reasons of safety

    Bookworm links a carefully-reasoned Victor Davis Hanson about Trump and the accusations being made against him, and contrasts it with  “the incoherent rage attack visited upon a conservative friend of mine via a series of text messages from one of the parents in his children’s community.”

    American universities as assembly points for the anti-free-speech Left

    Case in point:  Student mob shrieks at professor and calls for his firing

    Manchester and the lies we tell ourselves about terrorism.  A good piece, though I would question to use of the word “we” in the title–the intellectual fallacies described in the post are held by a set of people comprising less than 50% of the population…but still, a set of people with considerable power and influence.

    In Robert Heinlein’s 1952 story The Year of the Jackpot, a statistician observes many simultaneous indicators suggesting that the society is going totally insane.  Young women are removing all their clothes in public, but can’t explain why they are doing it.  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.

    I was reminded again of Heinlein’s story by this post:  Woman sues candy maker for it’s sugar-filled jelly beans and again by this piece of late-Weimar-level degeneracy.

    Hopefully I’ll be able to post some more encouraging links for the next roundup…

    Posted in Academia, Britain, Civil Liberties, Islam, Leftism, Society, Terrorism | 5 Comments »

    The Internet Rewards Crazy (Rerun)

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

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

    —-

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

    Extreme opinions.

    Stubborn.

    Bombastic.

    The opposite of thoughtful.

    Read the rest of this entry »

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

    Are you a White man? Is it funny when you die?

    Posted by Lexington Green on 17th April 2017 (All posts by )

    Democrats in a public, political meeting cheer and laugh at the mention of the increased number of white men committing suicide.

    The speaker says, maybe I should not say this in public, but when I heard more White men are committing suicide, I almost said “yeah, great!”.

    But he does say it, and the crowd likes it, as he knew they would.

    The speaker knows that he is talking about a group that has no organized capacity to oppose his despicable, dehumanizing, eliminationist hate speech. Attacking those who are not (yet) organized to resist is easy and fun.

    About which other ethno-cultural community is it permitted to laugh and clap when they die by their own hands in larger numbers?

    The despair that leads to this horrible increase in suicides is a gauge of the success of the policies the people in this video espouse. They are jeering over a defeated enemy. So for this crowd laughter and clapping is appropriate.

    Every other group in American life is now self-consciously tribal, and mobilized to respond to any grievance, real or imaginary.

    As noted elsewhere, liberal whites who believe themselves to be post-tribal cosmopolitans are merely a very wealthy and very powerful tribe, with their own rituals of recruitment and exclusion, who smugly believes themselves entitled to rule others.

    The last group to self-consciously form a tribe will be non-liberal, lesser-educated, lower status white males. This will happen, and is happening, out of self-defense. This is a very large group. They do not think it is funny when they and their friends, neighbors, classmates, military buddies, coworkers, sons, brothers, fathers, people like them, are reduced to hopelessness and commit suicide in increasing numbers.

    The younger members of this group, young white men, the generation aged 30 or so and under, are not easily shamed by accusations of political correctness. They see where this is going. This younger cohort is taking, and will take, the initiative.

    The balkanization of America is moving along at an accelerating rate. There is only one domino left. The groups which have been directing their animosity against an inert and un-reacting mass will probably be shocked when they have finally awakened something that can and will push back.

    Democrats who disagree with this kind of thinking and this kind of speech should insist that it stop. It is destructive, and it is even bad for their electoral prospects. But they won’t stop it. It is apparently intensely satisfying to enjoy the warmth of in-group solidarity, including expressing contempt for the disdained “other”, including laughing when they die in increasing numbers.

    Identity politics is the core of what the Democrats stand for now. It feels so good, to so many people, it is apparently even better than winning elections. It is sick that our politics is reduced to this level. FDR, HST, JFK and the patriotic, civic nationalist Democrats of bygone days are scowling down from that great smoke-filled room in the sky.

    Sad!

    Posted in Society, USA | 39 Comments »

    Speculations, and Positions, for the Public Record

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 1st November 2016 (All posts by )

    One week out seems like a good time to put some stakes in the ground.

    Read the rest of this entry »

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    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Christianity, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Current Events, Elections, History, Immigration, International Affairs, Israel, Libertarianism, National Security, Personal Narrative, Politics, Predictions, Society, Terrorism, Trump, USA | 20 Comments »