Sort-of-a-Rerun: Drucker and Chesterton on the Individual and the Community

Two related posts…first, Peter Drucker:

Originally posted 11/13/2005

In Managing in the Next Society, Drucker writes about the tension between liberty and community:

Rural society has been romanticized for millenia, especially in the West, where rural communities have usually been portrayed as idylic. However, the community in rural society is actually both compulsory and coercive.

One recent example. My family and I lived in rural Vermont only fifty years ago, in the late 1940s. At that time the most highly popularized character in the nation was the local telephone operator in the ads of the Bell Telephone Company. She, the ads told us every day, held her community together, served it, and was always available to help.

The reality was somewhat diferent. In rural Vermont, we then still had manual telephone exchanges…But when finally around 1947 or 1948, the dial telephone came to rural Vermont, there was universal celebration. Yes, the telephone operator was always there. But when, for instance, you called up to get Dr Wilson, the pediatrician, because one of your children had a high fever, the operator would say, “You can’t reach Dr Wilson now; he is with his girlfriend.” Or, “You don’t need Dr Wilson; your baby isn’t that sick. Wait till tomorrow morning to see whether he still has a high temperature.” Community was not only coercive; it was intrusive.

And that explains why, for millenia, the dream of rural people was to escape into the city. Stadluft macht frei (city air frees) says an old German proverb dating back to the eleventy or twelfth century. The serf who managed to escape from the land and to be admitted into a city became a free man. He became a citizen. And so we, too, have an idyllic picture of the city–and it is as unrealistic as the idyllic picture of rural life.

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Quote of the Day

TigerHawk: Things I wish liberals knew, or would acknowledge, about American business and business people:

Business acknowledges that it extracts value from labor in excess of its cost. However, it also confers value to its customers in excess of the price it charges. Left liberals worry a great deal about the surplus value conferred by labor, but often give no credit to the surplus value businesses confer on their customers.

Fantastic post by TigerHawk. Read the whole thing.

(Via @Fausta on Twitter.)

History Friday – Snowbound

A few years ago, I was offered an opportunity to review a new movie about the Donner Party – which turned to be one of those arty flicks, with some moderately well-known actors in the cast. It was screened at a couple of film festivals and then went straight to DVD. The plot actually focused on a small group of fifteen, who called themselves the Forlorn Hope. As winter gripped hard, in November of 1846, they made a desperate gamble to leave the main party, stranded high in the mountains, and walk out on snowshoes. They took sparingly of supplies, hoping to leave more for those remaining behind, and set out for the nearest settlement down in the foothills below. They thought they were a mere forty miles from salvation, but it was nearly twice that long. (Seven of the Forlorn Hope survived; two men and five women.) The poster art made it seem as if it verged into horror-movie territory – which I usually avoid, having an extremely good imagination and a very low gross-out threshold – but I did watch it all the way through. The subject – a mid 19th century wagon-train party, stuck in the snows of the Sierra Nevada – is something that I know a good bit about. The ghastly experience of the Donners and the Reeds, and their companions in misery, starvation and madness has horrified and titillated the public from the moment that the last survivor stumbled out of the mountain camp, high in the Sierra Nevada, on the shores of an ice-water lake.

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Empathy, The Middle Class, and Obama

I’ve frequently heard various Democratic operatives and Dem-supporting journalists asserting that Obama has empathy with the middle class, which (according to them) Mitt Romney lacks. Which raises two questions:

–What sort of middle-class empathy does Obama really have?

–What sort of empathy should a leader have?

Regarding the first question, it might help to segment the concept of the “middle class.” I think Obama’s attitude toward struggling blue-collar members of the middle class–especially those who live in small towns–is pretty clearly illuminated by his 2008 comment (at a private fundraiser) about such individuals being “bitter” people who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them..” His attitude toward middle-class small businesspeople shines through clearly in his “you didn’t build that” assertion. And his attitude toward upper-middle class professionals is demonstrated by his reflection about how boring it would have been for him to be a Wall Street lawyer, and his apparent belief that doctors regularly choose to amputate the feet of diabetic patients because it pays better than treating them.

In reality, Obama’s attitude toward the middle class is pretty much as the same as his attitude toward just about everybody else–contempt. At best, there is a sort of condescending pity, but rarely if ever anything approximating actual respect.

What sort of empathy should we want in a political leader, anyhow? As an analogy: imagine that you’re on an airliner that is in trouble and needs help from Air Traffic Control. You certainly want your assigned controller to care very deeply about the safety of your flight–but do you really want him to be spending his mental bandwidth “feeling your pain” in a Clintonian sense? Or if you’re a patient undergoing surgery, doesn’t the same point apply? You want genuine concern about getting the job done, but you don’t want or need a lot of emoting and especially you don’t want or need emotional display.

What you should want, in the case of a leader, is alignment of goals–you want the criteria by which the leader measures his own success to have a high overlap with the things you want him to accomplish. And it should be clear that if Obama succeeds in fundamentally transforming American society to something that accords with his vision–more centralized government power, a diminished private sector, a transition away from fossil fuels, a larger union movement, more focus on ethnic identities and less on common American identity, etc.–he will feel that he has succeeded, regardless of what happens to the standard of living and economic opportunities for middle-class Americans.

Cool Retrotech Project

I recently saw the retrosilent film The Artist (which I thought was pretty good), and by chance, a couple of days later I picked up a magazine with an article on the history of early talking-picture technologies. This in turn led me to do some Internet searching. One of the early sound-movie technologies was something called Vitaphone. With this approach, the sound was recorded separately from the film, using a very large (16 inch diameter) phonograph record.

“How on earth did they ever keep the sound and the picture in sync?” you may well be asking. During recording, the camera and the record-cutting machine were both driven by AC synchronous motors powered by a common line; during exhibition, a direct mechanical connection between projector and record-player was employed. Lots of detail about the process, as well as a review of the pioneering talking movie Don Juan, in this 1926 NYT article.

Vitaphone was heavily used by Warner Brothers and its sister studio First National between 1926 and 1931–in addition to feature films, the technology was used for over 1000 short subjects. While the technology offered good fidelity by the standards of the times–electronic amplification was used–the separation of picture media and sound media made editing difficult, and during exhibition of a film it was necessary to change the records every 10 minutes or so.

When Vitaphone was displaced by the sound-on-film approach, circa 1931,some–but by no means all–of the Vitaphone movies were transferred to the new technology. The Vitaphone Project, which has been active since 1991, is dedicated to finding the old films and old disks and bringing them together in playable format again.

Related posts:

Old movies, newer than new

Czarist Russia, in color (the first link at this post doesn’t work anymore, but the rest of them do)

In This Election Year I Wish

… that there was some kind of secret high-sign or signal that we could give to other conservative-libertarian-Tea Party adherents in casual social situations. Even in Texas, a mostly red-state and stronghold of prickly independent free-marketers, there is enough of a leavening of blue-state Dems and Obama worshippers that one need be constrained in discussing politics … by good manners, if nothing else. Especially in the neighborhood where one lives; there are, I know, at least a few Democrats sufficiently enthused about the One to actually display bumper-stickers and yard signs.

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Strange Headline

IBM Mainframe Evolves to Serve the Digital World

…in The New York Times.

IBM mainframes, like other mainframes, actually are of course digital and everything they do is part of “the digital world.” Indeed, IBM’s entire history, going back to the pre-computer punched-card days, is all about digital information processing.

“Digital” is not really a synonym for “cool modern stuff,” any more than “analog” is a substitute for “old-fashioned boring stuff,” but journalists generally seem to use the words that way.

(In the case of the linked article, I suspect that the article-writer and the headline-writer are not the same individual. LinkedIn made the headline even worse by changing it to “IBM Evolves to Serve Digital World.”)

Blues Brothers Return?

One time I had an out-of-town visitor and he asked me “What is unique about Chicago?” My response was – “Have you ever seen the movie the Blues Brothers?” He said no, and I asked random bar patrons as they passed by how many times they’d seen the movie, and the answers ranged from 3 to 10+ times each.

I was out for dinner near Division street on Saturday night and we saw these guys in their Blues Brothers mobile, with the Jake / Elwood license plates, to boot (but not the megaphone on the roof).

Then on Sunday when I was walking through the Loop I saw piles of police cars wrecked and stacked up and blocked off with police tape (for a movie set, I am assuming). These cars definitely reminded me of what remained after the famous Blues Brothers chase through downtown Chicago.

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Uncomfortable Territory

Weekly Standard. Breitbart.

This is difficult territory. But someone I deeply respect, whose background is evangelical, said he saw abortion in about any circumstances as deeply wrong; he’s also voting for Obama. The schism between sides may mean he hasn’t been exposed to audios like those linked above. Or he doesn’t want to know. So, this is difficult because that Illinois hearing and its transcripts define an in-your-face position.

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Michael J. Lotus receives award from Explorers Foundation

The award recognizes Lotus’ work on the concept of the Anglosphere, and his related work on “America 3.0”, authored in collaboration with James C. Bennett, forthcoming from Encounter Books, New York, and his contributions to the growing network of anglosphere scholars and entrepreneurs. Explorers Foundation values the anglosphere as a source of concepts and practices of use to productive people of every race, culture, and nation.

How To Be A Terrible Journalist – Chicago Magazine

From time to time Dan and I just agree to “give up” on certain types of blog posts because they are repetitive. One of those types of posts involve journalists missing the entire point and purpose of what they are writing about.

Chicago gun article

And yet this article from Chicago Magazine was such an egregious offender that it caused me to need to write a post on it.

The article starts with the traditional journalistic chestnut – the protagonist. In this case, it is how Mr. Patton, the corporate counsel of the city of Chicago, can adjust the gun control laws as little as possible to meet the terms of the latest court decision that gives citizens access to firearms. In the end, the counsel for the city of Chicago “doesn’t anticipate” any further legal challenges to the gun laws, a comment that the reporter accepts at face value. And finally, the article ends with this:

“We’re committed to achieving the greatest extent of gun control that’s lawfully possible while still complying with the Second Amendment,” he says. “It’s something we can do in the city’s overall effort (against) gun violence. It’s a plague, and we’re doing everything we can to fight it.”

And with that final quote from the protagonist, the “article” is ended.

Note how this article likely sailed through “fact checking”, because the corporate counsel really did say all those things, and the events listed did occur in that chronological row. However, the FACTS ARE WRONG.

Even the most cursory analysis of the situation on gun control by this “journalist” would have turned up salient facts that were completely relevant to the situation. The NRA does intend to aggressively fight and issue lawsuits against the City of Chicago and all other municipalities that limit second amendment rights, and this could be found everywhere on the internet or by spending even 5 seconds calling the NRA, which the writer didn’t bother to do.

More subtle than that obvious issue, is the fact that Chicago, which has among the strictest handgun laws in the country, is among the leaders in carnage caused by handguns, indicating plainly that these laws do not work in terms of keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and only work to deter law-abiding citizens from the ability to protect themselves from these criminals.

I won’t even bother to link to the latest articles showing shootings in Chicago which spike every weekend; they are everywhere and available to everyone, even this “journalist”.

While Chicago is a notorious hotbed of handgun violence, all the states around us have embraced concealed carry and limited restrictions on citizens, without the “wild west” shootouts promised by detractors. Chicago citizens travel every day into Indiana and now Wisconsin without fear of regular citizens harming them, while they would be scared to venture into their own neighborhoods “protected” by these city laws supposedly limiting gun violence.

The ideas that guns can be banned from a small corner of the populace is just irresponsible and ludicrous given that there are hundreds of millions of them across the US and that the tide of the second amendment has passed through almost every state of the union except for Illinois which ought to be a salient fact.

Cross posted at LITGM

Why I Haven’t Been Blogging

One of my older relatives once explained why he didn’t play poker. He’d done so when he was in the army but stopped as soon as he came out. His reason? He said, “I enjoyed it too much.”

He wisely recognized that it’s the things you really enjoy that can do you damage. There is no “hitting-myself-in-the-head-with-a-hammer anonymous” but there are 12-step and rehab programs for almost any conceivable overindulged pleasure . If you don’t discipline yourself, pleasurable activities create a dangerous feedback loop that can lead you down an implosive spiral.

I really like blogging and picking fights on the internet.

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I’m More Awesome Than You CAN Imagine

Sorry I haven’t been blogging any during the last eight months but the truth is that I’ve been wrestling with a big decision that affects everyone and I didn’t quite know how to explain it. Now, I’ve come to a decision and I think it only right that I inform you all of it so that you have some time to prepare yourself.

Here goes… I’m turning off the Universe.

Yep, that’s right, the whole shebang, from littlest Higgs Boson to the greatest galaxy clusters. Say goodnight, Gracie.

I know this will be hard to accept, but, you see, you’re not real. I mean, you are real as far as the experience of yourself and every other human being you know of but you aren’t, you know, real real.

I’m not explaining this very well.

You see, I wrote you. That is to say I programmed you.  I programmed you and every other person, place and thing in your universe. You’re just a simulation, a very big video game, based loosely on once-real people, places and things that I created. Not only did I create the simulation but I can start it, stop it, rewind it and alter it at will.

And all that kinda makes me god. I mean not GOD god but just god of the universe you experience. Let’s just say, “god as far as you are concerned.”

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Friday Historical Diversion: The Mild, Mild West

Some years ago, I succumbed to the blandishments of the overloaded bookshelves at Half-Price Books. I knew I shouldn’t have wandered into the section housing assortments of ‘Texiana’ but I did and I was tempted. Since I can resist anything but temptation, I gave in and bought a slightly oversized volume (with color plates!) with the gripping title of German Artist on the Texas Frontier: Friedrich Richard Petri for a sum slightly less than the current price on Amazon. Who was Friedrich Richard Petri, you might ask – and rightfully so for chances are practically no one outside of the local area might have heard of him, he finished very few substantial paintings, was only resident in the Hill Country of Texas for about seven years, and died relatively young.

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RERUN–Ambition and Opportunism

Originally posted 3/4/2004

There’s always a steady steam of books and articles offering advice to people who are beginning, or about to begin, their business careers. In the current crop of such publications, there seems to be a lot of emphasis on “taking care of yourself’–negotiating hard about starting salary, being insistent about raises and promotions, making sure you get full credit for the things you accomplish, etc etc. This general theme seems particularly pronounced right now in advice directed at women.

Within limits, it’s common sense. If you don’t stand up for yourself, you’re going to get run over. And, in an era of (at least perceived) insecurity, it’s natural that people would be increasingly focused on career self-protection.

But. Note the qualifier, “within limits.”

Readers of the afforementioned publications need to also read a little article that appeared in Investor’s Business Daily (2/23), under the title “Opportunists are Trouble.” Opportunists:

..avoid assignments that carry high risk of failure–even when such situations also present a great opportunity for success. They shirk responsibility for the actions of their subordinates…And while opportunists might seem highly intelligent, it’s often not the case…They master the art of appearance, but have very little depth.

The article quotes the author of “Staying There,” Thomas Schweich:

If you are going to be an executive with staying power, you must value ambition, destroy opportunism and be adept at telling the diference between the two…(Wise) executives search for small, tangible signs in those they are evaluating.

Earl Graves, founder & publisher of the magazine Black Enterprise, offers some advice as to how to detect an opportunist. One clue is an excessive preoccupation with perks–company credit cards, tickets to sports events, etc–and particularly, a focus on perks during the first few days on the job. And Mike Sears, previously CFO at Boeing, advises executives to look out for the “spotlight” mentality. People with this personality trait will “be charming when the spotlight is on, but turn irritable and condescending when they think “no one of importance” is watching.”

Another clue to an opportunist–and this one should be obvious–is excessive use of the words “I” and “me” when discussing positive outcomes. And then there’s the “should be” flag. Let’s say you ask your subordinate about the status of an assignment, and his response is that “it should be done.”

“(It) says that you think I am too stupid to figure out that you do not know the answer,” (said a senior Justice Department official). (And it) “says you are ready to blame someone else if the job hasn’t been done. You are pre-distancing yourself from the failure.”

It seems to me that many of the current practices in our educational system–grade inflation, excessive focus on unearned self-esteem–contribute to the development of the personality pattern referenced here under the name “opportunism.” And the problem with the kind of business advice that I mentioned at the beginning is that it tends to reinforce these tendencies, rather than causing the individual to reflect on them and balance them out. I worry that some of this advice could cause people who could have been successful to adopt behavior patterns that will destroy or limit their careers. Some, of course, will succeed despite their behavior (or even because of it, in unhealthy organizations), and they can then do damage that is sometimes on a very large scale.

A worthwhile article, and Schweich’s book sounds very interesting.

8/24/2012: I was reminded of this post by Bill Waddell’s post here.

“Gawande’s Kitchen”

An insightful critique:

But there is a much more important question being ignored by Gawande — How well does The Cheesecake Factory analogy really apply to health care? We can see how similar the kitchen is to an operating room — lots of busy people rushing about in a sterile environment, each concentrated on a task. But what about the rest of the “system?”
At The Cheesecake Factory, the customer is the diner. That’s who orders the service, pays the bill, and comes back again if he is happy. That is who all of the efficient, standardized food preparation is designed to please.
In Gawande’s ideal health care model, however, the customer isn’t the patient, but the third-party payer, be it an insurer or government. Let’s call that entity the TPP. The TPP never enters the kitchen. The TTP has no idea what happens in there, and doesn’t really care as long as the steak is cooked to his satisfaction and the tab is affordable.
In this model, the patient is actually the steak. It is the steak who is processed in the kitchen. It is the steak that is cut and cooked and placed on a platter. The steak doesn’t get a vote. Nobody cares if the steak is happy. The steak doesn’t pay the bill. The steak isn’t coming back again.
So here we are in Dr. Gawande’s kitchen, where you and I are slabs of meat and Chef Gawande will cook us to the specifications of his TPP customers — satisfaction guaranteed.

Worth reading in full.

(Via The Right Coast.)

We’re Barely Capitalists (Part II)

Recently I wrote a post titled “We’re Barely Capitalists” talking about the “crony capitalism” that lies in our midst. Since I live in the city of Chicago examples abound as far as the eye can see.

Let’s say, for example that you want to open up a bar in the City of Chicago. You find an architecturally interesting building in a “hot” location in River North, for instance, such as an antique store. Then you just turn it into a gigantic Wal-Mart sized bar, right?

The City of Chicago officially has been limiting the number of liquor licenses and tavern licenses that are allowed, particularly in residential areas. Per this article in USA Today:

Opening or buying a tavern in Chicago can be complicated, says Mike Costanzo, a real estate broker with Jameson Commercial. Aldermen can seek liquor license moratoriums in areas as small as two blocks, and buyers are required to purchase the corporate entity that owns an existing tavern and license, he says. “Getting a new tavern license issued in a residential neighborhood is brutal,” Costanzo says. “It’s virtually impossible.”

River North today is heavily populated with condos and apartments; there are thousands of residents packed in an area that is overrun with bars, taverns and restaurants that serve lots of booze (I realize that the city differentiates but walking around late at night they are all virtually the same). So if you or I just went over and tried to use one of the supposedly diminishing liquor licenses on an antique store, we’d be laughed right out of the room. And yet that didn’t slow down this company (which also owns bars in Lincoln Park and Wrigleyville) from getting clearance…

And how do you get something like that cleared up with the city? By employing someone like the guy whose license plate on his Mercedes says it all – “CLOUT”. These sorts of connections are like property rights, and you have to partner or utilize contacts from someone in order to get anything done. I find it amazingly brazen that someone would get out of a Mercedes with plates like this and do business, but hey, this is Chicago.

The use of formal and informal intermediaries to accomplish business goals through a bureaucratic maze is the essence of “crony capitalism”, on display before our eyes.

Cross posted at LITGM

The Pussy Riots Seen from Texas by an ROCOR Priest’s Wife

Ginny, a colleague of mine, invited me to read the posts related to Pussy Riot and contribute to the discussion from my perspective as a non-Russian, ROCOR priest’s wife. I’ve learned a lot from what I’ve read, and do not in any way consider myself an expert on Russia or on Orthodoxy (after 15 years, I’m still working at praying with my heart and mind at the same time), but thought I might be able to provide some useful clarification and/or complication to the ongoing discussion.

RE: the position of the young women during their protest, and whether or not this constitutes “prayer.”

There’s been quite a bit posted about this already; the women are standing immediately in front of the royal gates of the central iconostasis of the church—a place generally reserved for clergy. Lay people only approach this part of the church when they are about to receive communion or be ordained, married, or buried. Thus, their very location in the church is provocative. Adding to this is the fact that they are facing the “wrong” direction (their making prostrations facing the people rather than the altar has been called “idolatry” by some.) Lay people (all of the time) and clergy (the majority of the time) face East—looking at the iconostasis which separates the “high place” (where the altar—which typically contains relics of saints—and the reserved sacrament are located). Even when the Epistle is being read, the reader faces East—away from the people. The exceptions to this are the reading of the Gospel by the priest (or deacon) which is done facing the people, and the dismissal blessings given by the priest. (Obviously, the priest also faces the people when communing them.) Thus, by their very position and the direction they were facing, these women violated the use of that space in significant ways. If they were not intending to “offend” Orthodox Christians, they chose an odd way to show it.

Audible, public prayer in an Orthodox service is formal and “set.” After all, the liturgy most often used is St. John Chrysostom’s—from the 4th century. This is not to say that there is no place for extemporaneous prayer in church—but private prayers are inaudible—prayed silently. Worship is communal work; it is not about expressing oneself. Whether or not one wants to consider the actual text of the song a prayer, within the context of an Orthodox church—whether or not a formal service was being offered at that time—it would be asking a great deal to expect an Orthodox Christian to consider their action a prayer.

RE: Orthodox prayers for political leaders

I am neither qualified nor desirous of judging the appropriateness of Patriarch Kirill’s relationship with Putin. I do think that when a church appears to publicly endorse a political regime, it risks becoming a legitimate site of political protest (and I wouldn’t have had a problem if PR had protested in front of the cathedral rather than in front of the iconostas). The only point I’d like to clarify here is that prayer for a political leader does not equal endorsement of his or her policies. It is standard in the litanies of Orthodox services to pray for both the leaders and military of the country to which the church belongs. This (I think) is more rightly understood as a prayer requesting God to act as He will regarding the political and military regimes of a country—or that they act in a way which God CAN bless—rather than a prayer demanding some kind of divine stamp of approval.

RE: Context

Without entering the debate about the degree to which Russia is an Orthodox nation, I should simply like to remind readers that hundreds of thousands of clergy and monastics, and tens of millions of Orthodox Christians were killed in Russia in the 20th century, including one elderly woman who was shot after having been seen crossing herself as a funeral procession went by. Given this fact and its relative historical nearness, God only knows what kind of trauma was experienced by those Orthodox Christians who were present when PR stormed into their place of worship. Their freedom to worship in peace was violated. (I wonder whether those who champion PR’s “rights” to protest Putin’s policies in this context would also champion the Wellsboro Baptists “rights” to protest American policies at veteran’s funerals.)


Finally, as the wife of an unpaid priest of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, I would entreat readers not to confuse ROCOR with the Russian Orthodox Church. Communion has been restored between ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate, but their material circumstances are vastly different. You are unlikely to find any ROCOR bishops wearing expensive gold watches, and the vast majority of Russian Orthodox Churches in America are ROCOR. And since most ROCOR clergy are unpaid, and so must support themselves with secular jobs in addition to fulfilling their duties as priests, please do not be too surprised if they simply haven’t had the time to follow coverage of the PR controversy or participate in the conversation about it.