The City of West, Texas Leveled by Fertilizer Plant Explosion

The small town of West, Texas, north of Waco, has had its fertilizer plant blow up around 7:15pm CST. There was a fire with fire fighting units on-site when a tank in the plant exploded in a massive fireball described as “nuclear” by local residents.

The plant, and buildings within four blocks — including the hospital, apartments & a nursing home — have been leveled with many on fire. The local school district is closed the next two days from damage and use as a trauma center.

Dallas TV is reporting the West EMS director as giving a casualty count of 60-70 dead with hundreds injured in a town of 2,500.

The local Dallas TV is showing most of West is on fire with a 10-mile back up on I-35 filled with 1st responders and other traffic. I-35 between Waco and West is currently in the midst of a major construction project contributing to this.

The triage center at a local football field was evacuated at 10:00pm CST for fear of another tank at the plant exploding.

Further Dallas media reports (10:50pm CST) are that Northern Waco is being evacuated for fear of toxic chemical releases from the West Fertilizer Plant fires.

Update 11:20pm:
The Mayor of West has held a press conference that just ended (11:15PM CST). The Mayor is also a fire fighter and was a block away, responding, when the plant blew. He did not give overall casualty numbers, but five West fire fighters were on-site when the plant blew and are unaccounted for. The nearby nursing home was evacuated. First responders are going house to house in the northern portion of town looking for survivors, wounded and dead. Areas north of West are being subjected to a potentially toxic smoke plume but the fire is under control.

Earlier reports of Waco evacuation appear untrue.

Update: 06:30 AM
The death count dropped overnight from 60-70 to 5-to-15 “missing” mostly from the West Volunteer Fire Department. Facebook has a photo of the blast cloud here.

The cloud has the characteristic mushroom shape of any really large explosion. FYI, that photo was taken from Arlington, Texas about 70 miles away.

Update: 11:15am

The blast photo was changed as there was a question the earlier photo was faked.

Update: 12:40 pm
The main tank that blew in West had a 12,000 gallon volume and CNN is now reporting multiple hospital victims with anhydrous ammonia burns. That tank is almost certainly the source of the anhydrous ammonia. See the comments section for a retired OSHA investigator’s view of the explosion videos.

Update 12:50pm
West is known for a couple of things in Texas. Really good kolaches (pigs in a blanket with alternete fruit or cheese fillings for you non-Czech-Texans) and Westfest a polka festival every Labor Day. I suspect Westfest is going to be much more somber this year.

Boston Terrorism

UPDATE #5 Patterico has another story. The man who lost both legs and was shown in a graphic photo linked at Patterico, saw the bomber drop the backpack and look him in the eyes. A few minutes later, the bomb went of and blew off both legs of the witness.

UPDATE #4 Here is another photo of the white hat suspect taken by a runner who had finished the marathon and who heard the blast of the bombs. The photo was taken AFTER the bombs went off. Does this fellow have a backpack ? I can’t see it.

The NY Times has enlargements but has blocked uploads of them. He is walking by the corner of the building to the left of the photo. The man who took it has turned it over to the FBI.

Here is an enlargement I made and I don’t see the backpack. This is the suspect the FBI says dropped his backpack by the Forum Restaurant, the site of bomb #2.

UPDATE #3: Here are the FBI website photos of suspects. These photos are not the same as shown on the NY Post’s front page or on other sites.

Here is one I’ll call “black hat.” The other, called “white hat” is behind him.

And the other, “white hat” , is shown in close up. He fits a description of a guy with a hat on backwards and I have not seen his photo elsewhere. Neither is more than “a person of interest.”

Note that the other sites linked to below have deleted photos or changed to the above photos which now seem to be official.

UPDATE #2: A suspect is now being sought based on the video which shows him dropping off a backpack at the site of the second bomb. He was then seen leaving the area.

UPDATE: Aside from all the confusion by the media, there does seem to be video footage of suspects. In stills linked by Grurray below, two appear possibly middle eastern but it is way too early to say anything more.

The Boston Marathon bombs have focused attention on a subject not popular with this administration. It would really be inconvenient if it was an act of an Islamic extremist, even a homegrown one. The bombs appear now to be based on black powder placed in metal pressure cookers which were also filled with shrapnel-like objects such as nails and ball bearings.

Boston Marathon Bomb Photos

This photo shows the remains of a blasted pressure cooker found at the scene.

These are not like the bombs used in the 2005 London bombings, which used organic peroxides, described by an alleged “terrorism expert” on CNN as “hydrogen peroxide.”

The London bombings were also suicide bombings and were followed by public claims of responsibility including video taped statements by the bombers made before the event. The Boston bombing did have some similarities in that backpacks were used and the bombs were placed to inflict maximum civilian casualties.

Pressure cookers were used as the containers and are well known for this use.

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Open Apology

I hereby apologize to our friends across the pond for our current administration not sending anyone (my opinion is that at LEAST they should have sent Biden, but I would have preferred the President himself) to the funeral of Baroness Margaret Thatcher. I guess it was halfway expected. Just Unbelievable.

Around New York April 2013

Not only is Tom’s Diner the background for Seinfeld, it inspired the Suzanne Vega song “Tom’s Diner”. More importantly, the remix version of “Tom’s Diner” was called “The Mother of the MP3” because the guy that made the compression format used this song and worked on it over and over to use MP3 to build a faithful version of the sound.

This guy looks like he needs a bigger truck…

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You Are The First Responder

Way back in 2007 I wrote this piece and was sadly reminded of it yesterday.

I am currently training to go back to France to ride my bike in the Pyrenees again. My training rides are long and hard, and I usually use TV to help pass the time. Last night I decided to watch the coverage of the bomb blasts in Boston.

It was the usual cacophony of noise. I can’t count how many times I heard the term “federal, state and local law enforcement”, “bring to justice (or some form of it)”, etc. etc. It is always the same stuff.

One thing that actually riled me up and forced me to utter a curse word or two was something a guest on the Bill O’Reilly show (I know) said. I can’t remember the guys name, but he was a talk radio guy from Boston. He was, in a roundabout way, bashing the end of race Boston Marathon volunteers who were helping with first aid. It upset me so much because they were actually doing everything they could, wrapping wounds, transporting the wounded out of there since ambulances couldn’t get in, giving water, blankets, anything that might help the situation. All the while, the “professionals” were nowhere to be found, minutes away, while the cops were simply running around with their hands on their weapons (from the footage that I saw).

Always remember that you are the first responder. Not the cops or the other “professionals”.

America 3.0: Foreword and Blurbs: Glenn Reynolds, Michael Barone, Jonah Goldberg, John O’Sullivan

We are thrilled to announce:

(1) Glenn Reynolds, a/k/a Instapundit has written a foreword for America 3.0.

(2) Michael Barone, Jonah Goldberg and John O’ Sullivan have provided blurbs for the book.

We are grateful for the kind words and support from these distinguished gentlemen.

“Many pundits—and, polls say, most Americans—think America’s best days are behind us. In America 3.0 James Bennett and Michael Lotus argue that our best days are ahead—if we take the trouble to understand our past. We need to build on the unique American institutions that enabled previous generations to produce the successful agricultural America 1.0 and the even more successful industrial America 2.0 and to cast aside elements which prevent us from creating an even more successful post-industrial America 3.0.”

—Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, American Enterprise Institute resident fellow, and coauthor of The Almanac of American Politics.

“Capitalism, argued Joseph Schumpeter, relies upon creative destruction. In recent years, we’ve seen a lot of destruction while the creation has been less appreciable, at least in the eyes of many. James Bennett and Michael Lotus offer a glimmering vision: we are at the dawn of a miraculous era of creativity. This is a valuable book not just for its hopeful vision of America’s destiny, but for its concrete insights into the forces and trends pushing us to our rendezvous with destiny.”

—Jonah Goldberg, editor at large National Review Online, author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning

“Obamacare just hasn’t caught on with the American people. It is still opposed and resisted by most Americans. That was not supposed to happen. Theorists of the blue social model (or America as Sweden) were confident that once in place, Obamacare would set down roots in American democracy and become immovable. But alternative models of health care—red social model alternatives—are increasingly demanded by the voters. That’s true in economics, social welfare, and almost every other department of government. James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus predict that America’s future will be a better version of its traditional past, rather than an imitation European Union. They argue their case brilliantly and persuasively. This book is in danger of giving conservative optimism a good name.”

—John O’Sullivan, editor at large National Review, author of The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World

Cross-posted on America 3.0.

175 Years of Transatlantic Steam

On April 8, 1838, the steamship Great Western..the first steamship to be purpose-built for the transatlantic passenger traffic…left Bristol for New York City. Four days earlier, though, another steamship, the Sirius, had left Cork for the same destination.  Sirius had not been designed for the Atlantic run; it was a small channel steamer which had been chartered by the rivals of Great Western’s owners. This competitive enterprise had encountered delays in the construction of their own Atlantic liner, the British Queen, and had chartered Sirius to keep Great Western from scoring a win in the PR battle. Sirius did arrive at New York first, on April 23, but Great Western came in only 12 hours later…its crossing of a little more than 15 days was the fastest ever from England to America.

There were earlier crossings that had been at least partly steam-powered: the American ship Savannah in 1819 (which actually used only sails for most of the voyage),  and the Dutch Curacao and the Canadian Royal William, which made their crossings in 1827 and 1833 respectively. But it was the Great Western vs Sirius race which marked the beginning of steam passenger and mail service across the Atlantic.

The paddle wheels and auxiliary sailing rigs of the early steamers gave way to screw propellers and total reliance on steam, and reciprocating steam engines were later supplanted by steam turbines…which in turn have now largely been replaced by diesels and in some cases gas turbines. Aircraft carriers and submarines still use steam turbines, though, with the steam generation done by nuclear energy rather than the burning of coal or oil.

Here’s the British actress Fanny Kemble, writing circa 1882,  in annotation of her years-earlier comments about the difficulties and emotional pain caused by slow communications between the continents:

To those who know the rate of intercourse between Europe and America now, these expressions of the painful sense of distance from my country and friends, under which I suffered, must seem almost incomprehensible,—now, when to go to Europe seems to most Americans the easiest of summer trips, involving hardly more than a week’s sea voyage; when letters arrive almost every other day by some of the innumerable steamers flying incessantly to and fro, and weaving, like living shuttles, the woof and warp of human communication between the continents; and the submarine telegraph shoots daily tidings from shore to shore of that terrible Atlantic, with swift security below its storms. But when I wrote this to my friend, no words were carried with miraculous celerity under the dividing waves; letters could only be received once a month, and from thirty to thirty-seven days was the average voyage of the sailing packets which traversed the Atlantic. Men of business went to and fro upon their necessary affairs, but very few Americans went to Europe, and still fewer Europeans went to America, to spend leisure, or to seek pleasure; and American and English women made the attempt still seldomer than the men. The distance between the two worlds, which are now so near to each other, was then immense.

(The quote is one of several passages cited in my post Further Fannyisms)

Also: the ultimate development of the steam-turbine-powered passenger liner was represented by the SS United States. Sadly, this beautiful ship is in imminent danger of being turned over the the scrapper’s’ torches…to save her, the SS United States Conservancy needs to raise $500K in the next month and will welcome contributions.

Victory on Guns

Watching Kudlow tonight. The discussants agreed that the Republicans have mostly defeated the Democrats’ latest gun-control scheme, which has been reduced to arguments about the scope of federal background checks. This is small stuff as compared to the broad gun and magazine bans Democrats initially promised. Kudlow and at least one of his guests thought the Republicans would be wise to concede on the remaining issues, and Kudlow was eager to move the discussion on to the topic of Congressional budget negotiations. I think he missed the point. The Republicans won on guns for two reasons. First, the weight of public opinion shifted against the Democrats once people realized that the proposed anti-gun measures 1) would not prevent future mass-murders and 2) avoided dealing seriously with mental-health issues that seem to be much more connected to spree killings than guns are. The second reason why the Republicans prevailed was that, contra the Dem/moderate conventional wisdom, they stuck to their principles and didn’t concede on apparently marginal points. The Republicans wanted to win, were not eager for a deal and were willing to fight. That is a winning political position and the Democrats knew it.

So why don’t the Republicans apply the same principled, fighting attitude that defeated gun bans to other important issues such as federal spending, Obamacare and immigration?

History Friday – A Deep-Dyed Villain

The tree by the Nimitz hotel’s stable gate.
He really was a black hat, this particular villain; he was known and recognized throughout the district around mid 19th century Fredericksburg and the German settlements in Gillespie County – by a fine, black beaver hat. Which was not furry, as people might tend to picture immediately, but made of felt, felt manufactured from the hair scraped from beaver pelts. This had been the fashion early in the 19th century, and made a fortune for those who sent trappers and mountain-men into the far, far west, hunting and trapping beaver. The fashion changed and the far-west fur trade collapsed, but I imagine that fine hats were still made from beaver felt. And J.P. Waldrip was so well known by his hat that he was buried with it.

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Letter to Employees

This is part of a letter I just sent to my employees:

*In speaking with the owners of (company A) and (company B), both times the conversation turned to health insurance. With the “Obamacare” legislation being passed and coming into effect, we are not only going to be taxed on our current health insurance, but our insurance rates will be skyrocketing, yet again. (other business owner), myself, and the owners of (company A) and (company B) just looked at each other and said – and I quote – “we don’t know what we are going to do”. Note that this is not a political statement in any way, I am simply sharing with you the reality of the situation.

We have always considered “free” health insurance to our employees to be one of the massive benefits we like to provide, but if these increases go through as expected, the model will simply be untenable.

There may be decreased coverage, employee contributions, decreased profit sharing, and/or a combination of all three, or perhaps something else. We are not sure where this will take us, but we will do the best we can to come up with the best solution for everyone. Just be aware that there is a possibility of changes in the future. You will have ample notification and time if and when any changes are made.*

The train is coming down the tracks.

Margaret Thatcher: Revolutionary, Leader

…[H]er longest-lasting impact has been neglected. Indeed, it is so long-lasting that it is yet to fully play out, even now.
Margaret Thatcher changed the Right from a reactionary movement into a revolutionary one … .

Mark Wallace

The Conservatives in Britain needed to become revolutionaries. American Conservatism was started by William F. Buckley, Jr. and was meant to be revolutionary, or at least counter-revolutionary, and many of its early thinkers were former Communists who thought of themselves as continuing a revolutionary struggle.

Mrs. Thatcher pointed out nicely against whom the revolution must be made: crony capitalism:

Too many people and industries preferred to rely on easy subsidies rather than apply the financial discipline necessary to cut their costs and become competitive. Others preferred the captive customers that a monopoly can command or the secure job in an overmanned industry, rather than the strenuous life of liberty and enterprise.

Margaret Thatcher: Rebuilding an Enterprise Society Through Privatisation.

Saying “the State” is the problem is only partly true. Millions benefit from the State as it currently operates, and most of them are not employees of the State. They are rationally self-interested in keeping things as they are.

Choosing “the strenuous life of liberty and enterprise” is a moral choice at least as much as it is a self-interested one.

“Greed is good” does not get you capitalism. Greed is more easily satisfied by turning state power to personal gain. Capitalism, or the better term, free enterprise, permits great personal gain, and improves the lives of many people over time. But it cannot rely on self-interest alone to keep it going. It is a way you have to decide to live, individually, and as a nation.

Once upon a time I read a book which showed me that the growth of the state and the slow extinguishing of freedom and enterprise were virtually inevitable. The beneficiaries of each incremental increase in state power, of each incremental loss of personal freedom, were acutely focused on gaining and keeping their advantages. The losers in this process were diffuse, unfocused, distracted by everything else in life.

The common good had no champion, as a practical matter. In terms of strictly material incentives, it never would.

Worse, in terms of non-material incentives, it is even worse. To go against the currently powerful, the currently well-connected and prestigious, will lead to scorn, insults and derision.

And I eventually came to understand that pushing back against this process is precisely what is meant by the word leadership, under current conditions.

There is always a “them” who are the current ruling group. They are the ones dealt into the existing game, its apologists and advocates. To take them on, to organize and lead an opposition movement, the leader must have extremely strong character. Such a leader must be self-assured, know how things really work, and have a very thick skin. The leader must have no regard for conventional wisdom and no respect for the often unstated limits of what can be done or, even more, what is “simply not done” or “simply not said.”

As a practical matter, such a leader must have the capacity to speak plainly and clearly to a majority of ordinary people who are quietly victimized in the existing game, to show them how certain changes will be good for them, and good generally. They do not lead by force or lies, they lead by telling hard truths and gaining assent to the hard path to better things.

Mrs. Thatcher was such a leader.

Mr. Reagan was such a leader.

We need more of them. But they are always scarce.

Fortunately, though scarce, there have always been a few of them.

And as things get worse, people turn to them, reluctantly, out of necessity.

May God grant us more such leaders in the troubled days ahead.


Michael Barone sent the following anecdote:

My one significant exchange of words with Mrs. Thatcher.
I asked, perhaps a bit obsequiously, whether it was a weakness of her philosophy that its success depended on having a strong leader like her or Ronald Reagan.
She responded in her booming voice: “But isn’t that always true?”
After a pause: “Isn’t that ALWAYS true?”
Your point, exactly.

Mrs. Thatcher was correct on this point.

The system does not go of itself.

There has to be leadership.

There is no alternative.


I have been schlepping around for 20 years a copy of The Anatomy of Thatcherism by the late Shirley Robin Letwin. It is very good after about 50 pages.

Yom Hashoah

A bit late to this. Yom Hashoah, Israel’s Holocaust remembrance day, was April 8.

Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors has twenty questions for American Jews:

Do you believe that the lesson we should learn from the Holocaust is one of tolerance?
Do you believe that the mainstream media reports fairly about Middle East issues?
Do you believe that Israel practices apartheid?
Do you favor the two-state solution?
Do you believe that the unrest in the Middle East would end if a Palestinian state were established?
Do you believe that Israel should compromise more for the so-called peace process?
Do you believe the settlements in Israel are an obstacle to peace?
Do you doubt that Islam desires to establish global dominance?
Do you believe that continued sanctions and negotiations will deter a nuclear Iran?
Do you believe that the international community has the right to dictate Israel’s appropriate response to terrorism in defense of its citizens?
Do you believe that you can be anti-Israel and not anti-Semitic?
Do you believe that the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe is caused by Israel?
Do you believe that Islamophobia in America is far worse than anti-Semitism?
Do you believe there would have been no Holocaust if a Jewish state had existed in Hitler’s time?
Do you believe Franklin D. Roosevelt was a hero to the Jews during the Holocaust?
Do you believe that American Jewry did all they could to stop the slaughter during the Holocaust?
Do you believe your life as a Jew would be unaffected if there were no Jewish state?
Do you believe social justice should be taught in public schools?
Do you believe that you are safer if only the government is armed?
Do you believe that another Holocaust can’t happen?

Good questions.

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RERUN–Paying Higher Taxes Can be Very Profitable

(Originally posted in January 2010–now an April perennial)

Chevy Chase, MD, is an affluent suburb of Washington DC. Median household income is over $200K, and a significant percentage of households have incomes that are much, much higher. Stores located in Chevy Chase include Tiffany & Co, Ralph Lauren, Christian Dior, Versace, Jimmy Choo, Nieman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Saks-Jandel.

PowerLine observed that during the 2008 election season, yards in Chevy Chase were thick with Obama signs–and wonders how these people are now feeling about the prospect of sharp tax increases for people in their income brackets.

The PowerLine guys are very astute, but I think they’re missing a key point on this one. There are substantial groups of people who stand to benefit financially from the policies of the Obama/Pelosi/Reid triumvirate, and these benefits can greatly outweigh the costs of any additional taxes that these policies require them to pay. Many of the residents of Chevy Chase–a very high percentage of whom get their income directly or indirectly from government activities–fall into this category.

Consider, for starters, direct employment by the government. Most Americans still probably think of government work as low-paid, but this is much less true than it used to be. According to this, 19% of civil servants now make $100K or more. A significant number of federal employees are now making more than $170,000. And, of course, the more the role of government is expanded, the more such jobs will be created, and the better will be the prospects for further pay increases.

If one member of a couple is a federal employee making $100K and the other is making $150K, that would be sufficient to allow them to live in Chevy Chase and occasionally partake of the shopping and restaurants. But to make the serious money required to really enjoy the Chevy Chase lifestyle, it’s best to look beyond direct government employment and pursue careers which indirectly but closely benefit from government activity…which are part of the “extended government,” to coin a phrase.

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Would You Trust Your Financial Future to This Woman?

Patty Murray is a United States Senator.

Speaking to a group of high school students in 2002, she explained the appeal of Osama bin Laden to his followers, thusly:

“He’s been out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day-care facilities, building health-care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. He’s made their lives better. We have not done that.”

Day-care facilities. Yeah, women in Taliban-controlled areas like the convenience of dropping the kids of at the day care center before they check themselves in for the whipping or the stoning.

Murray’s deficiencies of understanding are not limited to foreign policy matters. Michelle Malkin:

” I’ll never forget interviewing her many years ago when I worked for the Seattle Times editorial board. We were talking about federal entitlement spending. I asked her about FICA taxes. She didn’t know what I was talking about; when I said “payroll taxes,” she still had a frozen blank look on her face.”

Another example of Murray’s ignorance shows her also to be a nasty bigot. When lobbying against a contract award for an Air Force tanker plane to Northrop Grumman, she said:

“I have stood on the line in Everett, Wash., where we have thousands of workers who go to work every day to build these planes. I would challenge anybody to tell me that they’ve stood on a line in Alabama and seen anybody building anything.”

This blogger responds:

Perhaps Senator Murray has heard of “Hyundai.” They manufacture “automobiles.” She might be shocked to learn that Hyundai has a “manufacturing plant in Montgomery, Alabama. She might also find it surprising to learn that Mercedes-Benz has a huge, state of the art manufacturing facility  just outside of Tuscaloosa. The last time I heard, manufacturing plants had “lines” where people “build things.” In fact, according to the Manufacture Alabama! website, Alabama has a strong manufacturing base.

Patty Murray is chairman of the  Senate Budget Committee. What do you think are the chances that this individual is able to understand the complexities of the Federal Government budget, or that she is willing to work seriously and objectively to analyze the issues involved?

Of course, not ALL the dumb politicians are on the Democratic side of the aisle…though they certainly do seem to have a lot of them…for example, the Congresswoman who thought Ben Bernanke had been CEO of Goldman Sachs, and the Senator who is unable to comprehend the difference between “carbon” and “carbon dioxide.” Of course, there are  some dumb politicians on the Republican side, too.

But it is especially the Democratic Party…and most especially the “progressive” wing that now dominates that party…that wishes to restructure American society in order to give ever-increasing power to the political class. Which means giving ever-increasing power to people like Patty Murray.


Margaret Thatcher, RIP

(This post was first published in 2004.)

Peggy Noonan on Margaret Thatcher

Peggy Noonan had a very nice column about the Reagan funeral. I especially like the passages about Margaret Thatcher.

Walking into a room in the Capitol Wednesday before dusk: A handful of people were standing together and gazing out a huge old white-silled window as the Reagan cortege approached down Pennsylvania Avenue. The sun was strong, like a presence. It bathed the women in glow. One was standing straight, with discipline. Her beige bouffant was brilliant in the sun. I approached, and she turned. It was Margaret Thatcher. It was like walking into a room at FDR’s funeral and seeing Churchill.
The cortege was coming toward the steps. We looked out the window: a perfect tableaux of ceremonial excellence from every branch of the armed forces. Mrs. Thatcher watched. She turned and said to me, “This is the thing, you see, you must stay militarily strong, with an undeniable strength. The importance of this cannot be exaggerated.”
To my son, whose 17th birthday was the next day, she said, “And what do you study?” He tells her he loves history and literature. “Mathematics,” she says. He nods, wondering, I think, if she had heard him correctly. She had. She was giving him advice. “In the world of the future it will be mathematics that we need–the hard, specific knowledge of mathematical formulae, you see.” My son nodded: “Yes, ma’am.” Later I squeezed his arm. “Take notes,” I said. This is history.

Ms. Noonan concluded on this note.

Many great things were said about Reagan, especially the words of Baroness Thatcher, the Iron Lady. What a gallant woman to come from England, frail after a series of strokes, to show her personal respect and love, and to go to California to show it again, standing there with her perfect bearing, in her high heels, for 20 hours straight. I wonder if the British know how we took it, we Americans, that she did that, and that Prince Charles came, and Tony Blair. One is tempted to fall back on cliche–“the special relationship.” But I think a lot of us were thinking: We are one people.

Margaret Thatcher is loved by American Conservatives more than anyone in Britain will ever understand. She is bigger than life, a warrior goddess from the olden times. She and Reagan slew the communist dragon. Sic semper tyrannis.

Bowdoin: In 1825 & Now

I don’t know much about Bowdoin. This seems, unfortunately, to be expected. I like the donor’s response – the president’s petty grandstanding is an overreach that motivates. Smugness enrages.

Today we skim over Longfellow, but once readers looked forward to his next narrative poem as an event. Longfellow also took academia and his languages seriously – developing a modern language program at Bowdoin; Harvard then drew him away to develop a similar program for them and he did. As we read a poem or two, I mention his Morituri Salutamus. Longfellow’s theme is similar but he hasn’t the power of Tennyson’s Ulysses. However this occasional poem is personal; his classmates, the classes of 1824 and 1825, at Bowdoin were some of his closest friends all his life. While he was the most popular American poet, a classmate and friend was Hawthorne. The novelist also remained intensely grateful and loyal to Franklin Pierce; a friendship begun at Bowdoin lasted until Hawthorne’s death. A fourth gained his fame more indirectly: Calvin Stowe’s interest in theology was shared with the famous Beecher family; his wife became a novelist with the broad audience Longfellow found. Clearly all were shaped by those years at Bowdoin.

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Top-Down Failure, and the Alternative

Wretchard discusses recent notorious Type II system failures. The Colorado theater killer’s shrink warned the authorities to no avail. The underwear bomber’s father warned the authorities to no avail. The Texas army-base jihadist was under surveillance by the authorities, who failed to stop him. Administrators of the Atlanta public schools rigged the academic testing system for their personal gain at the expense of students and got away with it for years. Wretchard is right to conclude that these failures were caused by hubris, poor institutional design and the natural limitations of bureaucracies. The question is what to do about it.

The general answer is to encourage the decentralization of important services. If government institutions won’t reform themselves individuals should develop alternatives outside of those institutions. The underwear bomber’s fellow passengers survived because they didn’t depend on the system, they took the initiative. That’s the right approach in areas as diverse as personal security and education. It’s also the approach most consistent with American cultural and political values. It is not the approach of our political class, whose interests are not aligned with those of most members of the public.

The Internet is said to route itself around censorship. In the coming years we are going to find out if American culture can route itself around the top-down power grabs of our political class and return to its individualistic roots. Here’s hoping.

History Friday: The Most One-Sided Gunfight Ever

This affray did not happen in Texas, but in New Mexico in 1884. It did have all the classic Western elements; rowdy cowboys, a small town fed to the back teeth with their destructive and abusive antics, and a single local lawman determined to uphold the rule of law and order. Here, however, ends any resemblance to High Noon, Tombstone, Stagecoach, Shane or any other classic Western movie. In this case, the single resolute lawman stands out in the annals of Western law enforcement for several reasons; first for sheer, stubborn crazy-brave courage, secondly for being barely 19 years old at the time, a tough little banty-rooster of a guy barely five-seven in boots… and thirdly for being native Hispanic in a time and in a place where anti-Mexican bigotry fell very severely on the non-Anglo population of any class or income.

His name was Elfego Baca – and there was one more difference to him. Although he had been born in Socorro, New Mexico Territory, he had spent most of his early life in Topeka, Kansas, where his parents had sought work and an education for their children. This resulted in Elfego Baca being more fluent in English than Spanish at the time of his returning to Socorro and working as a clerk in a general mercantile owned by his brother-in-law. He had another notable skill; facility with a six-gun. Very much later in life he claimed he had been taught to shoot by Billy the Kid … either William McCarty-Antrim-Bonny or some other adolescent shootist with the same moniker in New Mexico Territory around that time.

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RERUN–Myths of the Knowledge Society

(Originally posted November, 2009. See also this 2010 post: “Protocols” and Wealth Creation.)

Continuing my retro-reading of old Forbes ASAP issues. In the October 1993 issue, Rich Karlgaard, arguing that book value is of declining importance in evaluating companies, says:

Human intelligence and intellectual resources are now any company’s most valuable assets.

(Note that word “now”…we’ll be coming back to it)

Rich quotes Walter Wriston:

Indeed, the new source of wealth is not material, it is information,knowledge applied to work to create value…A person with the skills to write a complex software program that can produce a billion dollars of revenue can walk past any customs officer in the world with nothing of ‘value’ to declare.

I think Rich Karlgaard (now publisher of Forbes) is a very smart and insightful guy. (His blog is here.) And Walter Wriston was one of the giants of banking, back when it was possible to use such a phrase without snickering. But in this case, I think they are seriously overestimating the newness of the importance of knowledge in the economy. And such overestimation has continued and increased in the years since 1993.

The reality is that the leading companies of the much-maligned “industrial era” were themselves based on knowledge. The original Boulton & Watt steam engine business (which James Boswell visited in 1776) was based on James Watt’s design knowledge of how steam engines could be made more efficient and Matthew Boulton’s process knowledge about how they could be better manufactured. The original General Electric Company was based on Thomas Edison’s knowledge about numerous topics related to electricity. And so on.

And it would be a mistake to believe that while these businesses may have been based on an original brilliant idea or two, everyone other than the original inventors was restricted to uncreative drone work. The truth is, any substantial and surviving business requires thousands of innovations big and small, on a continuing basis, by many people. This is not new.

And knowledge isn’t something that only applies in laboratories, engineering departments, and executive suites…and has never been. I recently picked up an interesting autobiography by the engineer-writer L T C Holt, who grew up in the Welsh border area and worked in several factories in the 1920s and 1930s. Here’s his description of the work of a steam-hammer operator in a locomotive factory:

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