Chicago Boyz

What Are Chicago Boyz Readers Reading?

  •   Enter your email to be notified of new posts:
  •   Problem? Question?
  •   Contact Authors:

  • Blog Posts (RSS 2.0)
  • Blog Posts (Atom 0.3)
  • Incoming Links
  • Recent Comments

    • Loading...
  • Authors

  • Notable Discussions

  • Recent Posts

  • Blogroll

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Archive for June, 2013

    Chicagoboyz Cycling Series: Critical Mass (Chicago)

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 30th June 2013 (All posts by )

    Last Friday Critical Mass rode in Chicago. I can see it from my balcony in River North – they are traveling Northbound on Lasalle Street. Next time I will try to get down there in person so I can get some of the characters Jonathan talked about down in Florida.

    In true Chicago style I don’t have to worry about bicycles because mine was stolen. The hilarious part was that the Chicago police employee actually came and dusted for prints. It definitely wasn’t worth it because you can’t get that messy fingerprint dust off your door jamb or anything else and God knows that no action was taken to find the perpetrators.

    Posted in Chicagoania, Photos | 4 Comments »

    What is a conservative ?

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 30th June 2013 (All posts by )

    Right now we have the immigration bill that has been passed by the Senate after being written by the “Gang of 8.” This bill, like so many major pieces of legislation lately, was written in secrecy and has not been through the usual committee process. “We have to pass it to see what is in it.”

    As if Obamacare were not enough, here we have another opaque and mysterious bit of legislation that is thousands of pages of incomprehensible legalese.

    Jennifer Rubin weighs in with a rather beltway-oriented view. Fair enough as she writes in the Washington Post.

    The immigration battle, the debate over U.S. involvement in Syria and the flap over NSA surveillance have suggested two starkly different visions of the GOP as well as two potential paths for the GOP.

    The question remains whether the GOP will become the party of: Sen. Rand Paul, Ky., or Sen. Kelly Ayotte, N.H., on national security; The Gang of Eight or the Gang of Three (Sens. Mike Lee, Ted Cruz and Jeff Sessions) on immigration; Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio, or Rick Santorum on gay marriage; Broad-based appeal (e.g. Govs. Chris Christie, Gov. Scott Walker) or losing ideologues (Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Michele Bachmann). I don’t know that Angle and O’Donnell were “ideologues.” Angle, at least was an amateur, somewhat like other candidates supported by the Tea Party.

    I’m not sure I agree with her choices but let’s think about it.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Civil Society, Conservatism, Current Events, Economics & Finance, Elections, Immigration, Islam, Obama, Politics, Tea Party | 6 Comments »

    Civic Association and Loneliness: Two Sides of the Coin in the English-Speaking World

    Posted by Chicago Boyz Archive on 30th June 2013 (All posts by )

    An excellent article, Family Ties in Western Europe: Persistent Contrasts by David Sven Reher, Population and Development Review, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Jun., 1998), pp. 203-234 contains some fascinating passages which are highly consistent with the arguments we make in America 3.0:

    Loneliness is one of the most important social problems in weak-family societies. I refer to the loneliness of the individual who must confront the world and his own life without the safety net of familial support so characteristic of strong-family regions.'” Suicide, often an indirect consequence of loneliness, tends to be far higher in northern Europe and the United States than it is in southern Europe.” The effects of loneliness are compensated in weak-family societies by a strong tradition of civic association, where people form groups, clubs, and societies for the most varied purposes. The number and variety of these associations in England or the United States would be unimaginable for a citizen of southern Europe. In weak-family societies the individual is able to combat loneliness by turning directly to civil society, itself largely the product of the needs and initiatives of its members, in contrast to strong-family societies where the family comes between the individual and civil society, meeting a large part of the needs stemming from loneliness.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in America 3.0, Anglosphere | 8 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 30th June 2013 (All posts by )

    What archaeologists are finding in the lost city of Heracleion

    10 qualities of exceptional interviewers

    Is too much collaboration hurting worker productivity?

    12 old words that survived by getting fossilized in idioms

    Some photos of the New York subway being built

    How typeface can influence the believability of written communications

    How a kids’ clothing consignment business…started as a small home business and now operating in 22 states…is being threatened by mindless government regulation

    Speaking of government regulation…Indiana man faces possible jail time for nursing a bald eagle back to health

    Another fine photo essay from Bill Brandt: in the footsteps of Hemingway

    Paintings that look like photos. More photo-realistic artwork here. (via Don Sensing)

    On the failure to learn from history

    Posted in Big Government, Business, History, Human Behavior, Leftism, Management, Photos | 4 Comments »

    From Ancient Grudge

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 30th June 2013 (All posts by )

    (On the occasion of the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and a number of news stories of the Civil War reenactment events going on all this week – an essay on the Civil War from my own archives.)

    “From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”

    When I was deep in the midst of researching and writing the Adelsverein Trilogy, of course I wound up reading a great towering pile of books about the Civil War. I had to do that – even though my trilogy isn’t really about the Civil War, per se. It’s about the German settlements in mid-19th century Texas. But for the final volume, I had to put myself into the mind of a character who has come home from it all; weary, maimed and heartsick – to find upon arriving (on foot and with no fanfare) that everything has changed. His mother and stepfather are dead, his brothers and many friends have all fallen on various battlefields and his sister-in-law is a bitter last-stand Confederate. He isn’t fit enough to get work as a laborer, and being attainted as an ex-rebel soldier can’t do the work he was schooled for before the war began. This was all in the service of advancing my story of how great cattle baronies came to be established in Texas and in the West, after the war and before the spread of barbed wire, rail transport to practically every little town and several years of atrociously bad winters. So are legends born, but to me a close look at the real basis for the legends is totally fascinating and much more nuanced – the Civil War and the cattle ranching empires, both.

    Nuance; now that’s a forty-dollar word, usually used to imply a reaction that is a great deal more complex than one might think at first glance. At first glance the Civil War has only two sides, North and South, blue and grey, slavery and freedom, sectional agrarian interests against sectional industrial interests, rebels and… well, not. A closer look at it reveals as many sides as those dodecahedrons that they roll to determine Dungeons and Dragons outcomes. It was a long time brewing, and as far as historical pivot-points go, it’s about the most single significant one of the American 19th century. For it was a war which had a thousand faces, battlefronts and aspects.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, History, USA | 13 Comments »

    Chicagoboyz Cycling Series: Critical Mass, Part 2

    Posted by Jonathan on 29th June 2013 (All posts by )

    Did this again last night.

    Critical Mass

    Another big crowd. This time we started near the front, which made the whole experience better as most of the crashes and sudden stops happened behind us. Also it’s summer, so much of the ride took place when it was light enough to see the sights, including the more attractive female participants…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Diversions, Photos, Sports, Transportation, Urban Issues | 10 Comments »

    Around Key West

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 29th June 2013 (All posts by )

    I went to Key West in late February. We go to Key West figuring that it would be the only place in the US that we were guaranteed some hot weather, because it was a long winter here in the Great Midwest. We flew right into Key West and back out (via Hot ‘Lanta) else I would have tried to hook up with Jonathan down in Florida.

    I love the Ocean Key bar. It has everything I am looking for in a bar – a bit of a Tiki theme, it looks right out on the ocean, and it is always hot and warm. Highly recommended.

    One of my favorite posts (OK it is a bit strange) is on the relative cost of alcohol when I went to Norway. By contrast, you can get by very cheaply on alcohol and reasonably fine dining down in Key West – these happy hour prices were so low I had to snap a picture. Roughly 1/6 the price per equivalent vs. Norway, for what that’s worth.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Photos | 4 Comments »

    History Friday — MacArthur’s Anglo-Australian Radars

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 28th June 2013 (All posts by )

    Radar was the “Revolution in Military Affairs” in WW2. If you wanted to know the fighting style of a particular military theater in World War 2 (WW2), you have to know the capabilities of the radars the theater had and how the theater was organized to use them. This isn’t just a matter of creating an early warning air defense system, like was used in the Battle of Britain. The far more important and little understood reason is stated in two words — “Operational losses.” The leading killer of aircraft in WW2 was “Operational Losses.” Operational losses are what happen when bad fuel, bad weather, bad parts, bad maintenance and just plain “getting lost” catch up with pilots. Radar as organized & practiced by the Western Allies saved many poor or average pilots that had all of the above happen to them to fight another day and become good pilots. However, when you try and find what radars MacArthur’s South West Pacific Area (SWPA) had in WW2, how and by whom they were used, there is very little in the US Army and US Air Force institutional histories.

    The researching of Douglas MacArthur as a “Fighting General” in WW2 means you become used to discovering frustrating dead ends in established narratives. In the case of MacArthur’s radars, it was an exercise in internet searching to gain the understanding that these most important elements of MacArthur’s WW2 fighting style — his Australian and British radars — were designed completely outside the US Military. These radars were either not well documented in the narratives, or if they were, how they were used was classified until as late as the 1990s. Chief among these items from outside the US military were:

    1) The Australian Light Weight Air Warning (LW/AW) and Light Weight Ground Control Intercept (LW/GCI) of radars the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and,
    2) The British Light Weight (LW) radar, produced in Canada for the US Army Signal Corps as the SCR-602.

    Australian Light Weight Air Warning (LW/AW) Mark I Radar Deployed in the SWPA
    Australian Light Weight Air Warning (LW/AW) Mark I Radar Deployed in the SWPA

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in History, Military Affairs, USA | 14 Comments »

    Just Unbelievable

    Posted by David Foster on 28th June 2013 (All posts by )

    Michael Skapinker, writing in yesterday’s Financial Times:

    A few weeks ago I received an email from a US professor whose dean had reprimanded him for trying to teach his students how to write. The professor, who has been teaching business and law students at some of America’s top universities for 50 years, told an MBA class that clear writing would be essential in their careers.

    Each week, the professor assigned the students to compose a one-page memo, which he would read and mark. The objective was to improve their skills at conveying information clearly and concisely.

    The students complained vigorously to the dean, and the dean urged the professor to discontinue the memo-writing exercise. He (the dean) supported the view of the students that in business today, they did not need to know how to write…that with emails and tweets as the medium of exchange, the constant back-and-forth would provide an opportunity to correct misunderstandings caused by unclear writing. Ultimately, the dean insisted that the writing exercise be made voluntary, with the result that by the end of the term only one student (a non-native English speaker) was submitting the assignments.

    For those who think bad writing is okay because it can be clarified and corrected by emails and tweets, try sending a really badly-written sales proposal to a potential customer. You are likely to find that the sales opportunity has been blown in a way that will not allow for all those endless back-and-forth emails and tweets. Or, if your actual and apparent authority within the corporation are sufficiently high, you may find that you have unintentionally made a legally binding and potentially very expensive offer on behalf of your company.

    The consequences of bad writing within a company can also be quite malign. If your proposal for an improvement to the Gerbilator product line is sufficiently confusing, it’s likely nobody is going to bother investing the time needed for all that back-and-forth to understand what you are actually trying to say. More likely, they will choose to devote their attention to someone else’s crystal-clear and well-reasoned proposal to spend the engineering and marketing efforts on something else entirely.

    Skapinker notes that it is very odd that in an era when parents are seeking all possible advantages for their children (“exposing them to Paul Klee at the age of four…and teaching them to sing ‘Heads, shoulders, knees, and toes’ in Mandarin”) these parents do not pay serious attention to developing and improving the writing skills of the kids.


    Both clear writing and effective speaking (with or without PowerPoint) are tremendous advantages in business, and surely in other types of organizations as well. Anyone who graduates from a university without developing these skills has been cheated…or (more accurately in most cases) has cheated himself with the university’s collusion.

    Posted in Academia, Business, Education, Just Unbelievable | 22 Comments »

    History Friday – The Petticoat Terror of the West

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 28th June 2013 (All posts by )

    Her proper given name was Myra Maybelle Shirley, later shortened to Belle, and she had a lamentable taste for dangerous men and walking on the far side of the law, which eventually brought her to an untimely grave, murdered by the last in that series of dangerous men. Her career brought considerable embarrassment to an otherwise respectable and law-abiding family, who resided near Carthage, Missouri in the year of her birth, 1848. Her father was a Virginian, a prosperous man, a pillar of the community, and a judge – and she was the only daughter in a family of boys. Her father the judge had her expensively schooled in those arts thought proper for a Victorian-era lady of good family at at the local female seminary, where she excelled in French and in playing the piano. Her older brother Bud, more problematically taught her to ride, to shoot, curse like a trooper and love the out-of-doors. A show-off and a bit of a tomboy – how could an independent and spirited girl with five indulgent brothers be anything else?
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, History | 10 Comments »


    Posted by Jonathan on 27th June 2013 (All posts by )

    A sailboat cruises at twilight on Biscayne Bay just south of Key Biscayne, Florida. (© 2013 Jonathan Gewirtz /

    Posted in Photos | 2 Comments »

    Considerations on the N-Word

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 26th June 2013 (All posts by )

    The injudicious use of which has led to Paula Deen being booted from the Food Network, never mind that she was speaking under oath, and is a lady of a certain age and of a background where the n-word was … well, I honestly can’t say how current was the use of that word back in Paula Deen’s early days. It’s certainly scattered generously all over 19th century literary works like Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn like chocolate sprinkles on a frosted Krispy Kreme donut, and piled on by the handful in the 20th century oeuvre of rap artists and edgy comedians of color… Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Blogging, Business, Civil Society, Current Events, Diversions, Entrepreneurship, Miscellaneous, Society, Uncategorized, USA | 31 Comments »

    RERUN–Be Afraid

    Posted by David Foster on 25th June 2013 (All posts by )

    (Originally posted in July 2009. I’m re-running it now for obvious reasons)

    Many Unhappy Returns, by Charles Rossotti, is the story of Rossotti’s experiences as IRS Commissioner, which position he held from 1997-2002–having previously spent his career in the private sector and been cofounder & chairman of American Management Systems Inc. I picked the book up for a dollar at a library book sale, thinking it might offer an interesting case study on the challenges of managing and improving a very large bureaucratic organization.

    And I’m sure it does. On the very first pages of the book, though, are some stories which are very relevant to our current political situation.

    During the 1990s, public dissatisfaction with the IRS reached new levels, resulting in a series of Congressional hearings beginning in 1996. Rossotti excerpts some of the stories told by taxpayers (and IRS agents) at these hearings, and grim reading they are indeed.

    For example, a woman from California told of her 14 year struggle to pay off a tax debt incurred by her first husband prior to their 1983 divorce. “Kafka himself could not have invented this real-life tale of an ordinary person caught in a maddening bureaucratic maze with no maps, no exits, and no explanation,” says Rossotti. Her ex-husband had gotten all the notices, but she alone had gotten the bill for interest on the unpaid balance. When she tried to pay it, the IRS repeatedly refused to accept payment, telling her she didn’t owe anything and even sending her refunds. But years later, the IRS threatened to put a lien on her new husband’s home because of her prior “debt.” She paid it but five years later, her second husband’s salary was levied for payment on the same “debt,” leaving the couple with only $18 a week to live on.

    “The IRS is judge, jury, and executioner–answerable to none” said the woman in her Congressional testimony.

    An IRS agent–the only one willing to testify without concealing her identity–claimed that it was an intentional policy of IRS management to pick on weak taxpayers to make the IRS’s statistics look better. She said that “to the IRS, vulnerabilities can be based on a perception that the taxpayer has limited formal education, has suffered a personal tragedy, is having a financial crisis, or may not necessarily have a solid grasp of their legal rights”…that “if the taxpayer does object or complain, every effort will be made by the IRS to run up their tax assessment, deplete their financial resources, and force them to capitulate to IRS demands.”

    A Newsweek story said that “According to more than a dozen agents…(management) pushed for ever more property seizures from delinquent tapayers, even though the IRS manual says such moves should be a final resort, riding roughshod in some cases over their rights to appeal. They closed cases an sometimes slapped on levies and liens prematurely–which boosted the enforcement stats that the IRS rewards with cash awards for top officers.” There’s lots more of this stuff in Rossotti’s book.

    Government is inherently dangerous. As a Delaware construction contractor said during the hearings, “believe me, when the resources of the government are unleashed on you, you are in trouble, no matter how good your case.” And this point is not specific to the IRS.

     Reading these stories reminded me of a passage that has been attributed to George Washington:Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.It’s not clear that this quote really came from George Washington–but whoever said it, it captures an important truth. Yes, government is essential, but it is inherently very dangerous and there must be constant vigilance to keep this danger in check. Yet the dangers to individuals that come from a tremendous expansion of government seem entirely invisible to the “progressives” who currently dominate our national politics. This despite the fact that over the last century, hundreds of millions of people have been killed by their own governments and billions more subjected to lifetimes of unnecessary poverty.

    And I would assert that the organizational and systems issues involved in enforcing the IRS regulations fairly, although not simple, are far less complex than those involved in a national healthcare program. And the time criteria are much more stringent in healthcare–a delay of a week usually won’t matter in an IRS case; in a healtcare situation, it may literally be a matter of life and death.

    In virtually every aspect of American life, we are now seeing efforts to vastly expand government power, while ignoring or minimizing the dangers associated with such expansion.

    Original CB discussion thread here

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Management, Political Philosophy, Politics, USA | 6 Comments »

    Engineering for Failure

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 24th June 2013 (All posts by )

    While walking along Wacker Drive in a tourist-y part of downtown I passed this planter that had been recently rebuilt over the last few years.  Obviously the cold winters and the damage they cause were not contemplated by the “A” Team that built it.  While you can’t judge infrastructure capabilities based on a planter, it is easy to find many Chicago examples of large overruns and delays including Millenium Park (4 years late and budgeted at $150M, ended up costing $475M).

    We aren’t the only ones screwing up.  Der Speigel (English) describes how high profile German engineering projects have been recently failing, as well.  Their airports, government buildings, and train tunnels have many prominent examples of being far behind schedule and way over budget.  The article also makes the provocative claim that authorities deliberately mislead constituents by downplaying costs at the time of the initial approval, figuring that it won’t be their problem years’ later when the effort is complete and the overrun’s are tallied.

    In many instances, the false calculations are deliberate. Werner Rothengatter, a researcher at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, has studied major public works projects around the world. He says there’s a similar pattern in democratic societies, where politicians have a tendency to deceive the public about the actual costs of these projects.
    Rothengatter argues that cost overruns rarely come as a surprise — regardless of whether they are from the Berlin airport or Hamburg’s new Elbphilharmonie concert hall. During his research, he found that most politicians try to calculate the price to be as low as possible in order to obtain support for the projects — deliberately veiling the potential risks.
    “Those who provide honest estimates for projects from the very beginning have little chance of getting them off the ground,” Rothengatter claims. Often those at the political helm take a calculated risk by assuming they won’t be held personally responsible if the costs start to explode.
    In a 2009 study, “Survival of the Unfittest: Why the Worst Infrastructure Gets Built,” Danish researcher Bent Flyvbjerg of Oxford University argued that it often isn’t the best projects that are completed, but those that “are made to look best on paper.” Those, of course, are projects that “amass the highest cost overruns and benefit shortfalls.”

    The idea that governments make poor project managers and select inefficient efforts for their largess (that they sponsor with your tax dollars) should be obvious, yet it is rarely commented on as a “core” reason for failure.  The idea that non-profit government institutions can make wise capital allocation decisions is actually quite popular and is likely a “given” among many of the young, given that the “free” market is demonized on most popular programming.  As the government makes up a larger and larger portion of our total economy, you can expect more bad decisions and lousy outcomes.

    Government bodies inherently make impaired decisions, since they are insulated from failure and have many other parties to blame along the way.  In Chicago, in particular, if you are the selected candidate of the “blue” party and can slog through a primary, your election is guaranteed; many posts run unopposed (even in the primary).  It is hard to imagine anything short of epic failure resulting in being thrown from office.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Chicagoania, Economics & Finance, Europe, Germany | 14 Comments »

    Which is the bigger treason?

    Posted by TM Lutas on 24th June 2013 (All posts by )

    In all the brouhaha over Snowden’s betrayal of his NSA obligations and his country I have yet to see a serious analysis outlining the full problem with this information. The nature of the information, how and why it becomes classified. Non-classified information gathered without a warrant but not accessible without a warrant is an interesting category. Why such information should be classified at all is an under-covered question though most people understand intuitively that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the government’s approach.

    In general this information has been accessible to lawyers in legal cases, ie not classified but has had short accessibility lifespans. Traditionally it has been fairly quickly thrown away because it is too expensive for private companies to maintain that volume of metadata for very long. Test cases are now underway where lawyers who have been turned down by the phone companies as their copies have been overwritten are now seeking the NSA’s copy in an effort to defend their clients from federal criminal prosecution. Criminal law discovery rules are rushing headlong towards a collision with the national security state.

    It is not at all clear that such information should be classified at all and that the first serious crime in the Snowden case might have been committed by as yet unnamed bureaucrats who improperly classified this information to begin with, possibly leading to unjust criminal convictions and obstructing justice for years now. Overclassification is a major issue of long standing in US governance. It creates legal jeopardy where none should exist and impedes government oversight crucial to the functioning of the US system of government.

    At trial (assuming there ever is one) the government bears the burden of proving that the information was properly classified in the first place. But long before this affair ever sees the inside of a court room, we need to hash out whether this classification was proper or should see the light of day.

    Posted in Law, National Security | 30 Comments »

    The Media as Corrupt Kingmaker

    Posted by David Foster on 23rd June 2013 (All posts by )

    It appears that in 2008 there was considerable collusion among journalists to ensure that Barack Obama’s relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright did not receive serious attention. Be sure to read the piece at the link. I feel sure that there are numerous people who voted for Obama who would not have done so had this matter been properly covered. But these journalists–who no doubt consider themselves Your Moral and Intellectual Superiors, as Glenn Reynolds puts it–did not want you and other Americans to have and consider this information, but arrogated to themselves the power to decide what voters should see and should focus on, based on their own views of which candidate should win the election. Morally at least, what these journalists did is analogous to selling stock in a company while hiding material adverse information about the company…except that the stakes in this case were much, much higher.

    More recently, 60 Minutes performed what PowerLine calls “a  classic hit job on Israel ,” alleging that Israel is responsible for the exodus of Christians from the West Bank and Jerusalem. PowerLine notes that:

    The story was short on facts and context, particularly the context of the assaults on Christians and Christian sites in the Muslim Middle East. Anyone who has ever been to Israel knows that the authorities treat all religious sites as a sacred trust. At the American Spectator, Aaron Goldstein asks: “How many Christian churches have been burned down by Israelis? How many Christians have been murdered inside Israel?” Simon failed to “report” the answer to that question, but I’m pretty sure Power Line readers have a good bead on it.

    Watch the CAMERA video at the PowerLine link, which shows that CBS News made false statements about Bethlehem and the Israeli security fence. CAMERA also says that CBS, even after being advised of its error, has thus far failed to correct the misinformation it has propagated.


    Posted in Israel, Judaism, Media, Politics, USA | 11 Comments »

    RERUN–The Age of Blather

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd June 2013 (All posts by )

    (Originally posted in May 2009. A recent post by Captain Capitalism reminded me of my post about Mindless Verbal Taylorism…while searching for it, I came across this post, which indeed seems due for a rerun.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Original CB discussion thread here.

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Management, USA | 21 Comments »

    Famous quotes from famous people

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 21st June 2013 (All posts by )

    Chelsea Clinton is starting on her career in feminist politics.

    At a “Women Deliver” meeting:

    Chelsea Clinton said that her much-admired maternal grandmother was the child of unwed teenage parents who “did not have access to services that are so crucial that Planned Parenthood helps provide.”

    I have to acknowledge that I agree with her. Imagine no Hillary Clinton !

    This is what we have to look forward to in politicians and news readers.

    “I hope that telling stories through ‘Making a Difference’ – as in my academic work and nonprofit work – will help me to live my grandmother’s adage of ‘Life is not about what happens to you, but about what you do with what happens to you.'”

    Is that the grandmother who shoulda been aborted ?

    Posted in Biography, Current Events, Philosophy, Speeches | 21 Comments »

    Orionid Meteor Shower Photos

    Posted by Jonathan on 21st June 2013 (All posts by )

    The night of October 20-21, 2012 was a good time to see Orionid meteors, which are bits of Halley’s Comet that hit the Earth’s atmosphere every October and appear to originate from the constellation Orion. With Jay Manifold’s expert advice and a star map that he emailed to me, I drove to the darkest convenient place and spent a few hours taking pictures.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Photos, Science | 4 Comments »

    History Friday: Jack Hays’ Big Fight

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 21st June 2013 (All posts by )

    Jack Hays holds an outsized place in the history of the Texas Rangers, who began as a sort of heavily-armed and mounted Neighborhood Watch, metamorphosed into frontier protection force, and only much, much later into a law-enforcement body. But he was one of the earliest Ranger commanders; a surveyor by profession, born in Tennessee and raised in Mississippi, who would live to a ripe old age as a politician and lawman in California. Quiet, modest, self-effacing, Jack Hays became the very beau ideal of a captain of Rangers. He came to Texas at the very end of the fight for independence from Mexico in 1836, and worked as a surveyor and alternately as a soldier volunteer. He had been among the Texans in the Plum Creek fight, but made his name in the decade afterwards, astounding people who knew only his reputation upon meeting him for the first time. He was slight, short and refined in appearance and manner, and looked about fourteen years old. But he was also a gifted leader of irregular fighters and possessed an iron constitution. His fearlessness and daring became a byword among his fellow Rangers and his Tonkawa Indian allies and scouts. Chief Placido of the Tonkawa exclaimed admiringly, “Me and Red Wing not afraid to go to hell together. Captain Jack heap brave; not afraid to go to hell by himself.” The Texas historian T.H. Fehrenbach noted, “He mauled Indians from the Nueces to the Llano, and never with more than fifty men.”
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in History | 14 Comments »

    History Friday: MacArthur’s Sioux Code Talkers

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 21st June 2013 (All posts by )

    I have mentioned in a previous column ( that researching and understanding MacArthur’s WW2 fighting style was an exercise in frustration due to existing institutional historic narratives plus the patchwork and mayfly-like lives of some of the institutions MacArthur created and used to fight in the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA). Organizations that were discarded by the US Army after WW2 and then hidden behind bureaucratic walls of classification for decades. One of my internet searches stumbled across another example of these many, small, ‘here today and gone tomorrow’, narrative busting organizations in MacArthur’s South West Pacific Theater, his Sioux Indian Code Talkers.

    Unlike the much more publicized US Marine Corps Navajo Code Talker program, this smaller “Code Talker” program used Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota Sioux Native American soldiers in MacArthur’s South West Pacific Theater and in Europe. The program was not declassified until the mid-1970’s and the US Army has never seen fit to publicly recognize their Sioux code talkers to the extent that the USMC has with its Navajos. It does not fit the narrative on MacArthur.

    MacArthur’s Code Talker program was smaller than both the USMC program and the European Theater Comanche code talker program with the 4th Infantry Division (whose cover was blown to the Axis by the NY Times in 1940!) and was centered around the US Army’s 302nd Reconnaissance Squadron of the 1st Cavalry Division, a battalion sized horse cavalry Reconnaissance unit, that was reorganized into two company sized units, the 302nd Reconnaissance Troop (Mechanized) and the 603rd Independent Tank Company. Some of the 302nd code talkers graduated from the same course that the 6th Army Alamo Scout infiltration teams were selected from.

    See this 1st Cavalry Division Association link ( on the 1st Cav’s “Sioux Code Talkers” —

    “During the fall of 1943, more changes came to the Division. On 11 October, the firepower of the Division was improved by the activation of the 271st Field Artillery. In the reorganization of 04 December, weapons troops “D” and “H” were added to each of the regiments. The 7th Reconnaissance Squadron was reorganized into the 603rd Light Tank Company and the 302nd Reconnaissance Troop (Mech). The 302nd had a specific Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E) which incorporated a unique radio unit with troops of Lakota and Dakota Indian Tribes who used their ancient tribal Sioux language to communicate with other divisional headquarters troops. This secret organization, formed in the foothills of Australia and later to be known as “The Code Talkers” was recruited at the direction of General MacArthur. The close-knit group of individuals, Phillip Stoney LeBlanc, Edmund St. John, Baptiste Pumkinseed, Eddie Eagle Boy, Guy Rondell, and John Bear King took their task seriously. They saved many American lives using their language as an unbreakable code to fool the Japanese throughout the subsequent Island Campaigns.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in History, Military Affairs, Miscellaneous, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »


    Posted by Jonathan on 20th June 2013 (All posts by )

    This coming Sunday’s full moon will be a supermoon, a full moon that coincides with the moon’s closest passage of the year to the Earth. The moon will appear to be a bit bigger in the sky than it does at other times. Might be worth a look. Also could be a good time to go surfing.

    (I usually need to shave at least two or three times on a supermoon day but maybe that’s just me. If you have similar issues you might find this to be helpful, or in extreme cases one of these.)

    The so-called super moon -- a full moon on the date of the moon's closest annual approach to Earth -- as seen from the observation tower in the Shark Valley section of Everglades National Park, Florida on May 5, 2012. (©2012 Jonathan Gewirtz/

    Last year.

    Posted in Announcements, Photos, Science | 6 Comments »

    Last Stand on the Loire

    Posted by David Foster on 19th June 2013 (All posts by )

    By this date in 1940, the Battle of France was clearly lost. British troops had been evacuated at Dunkirk by June 4. Large numbers of French soldiers had been killed or captured, the French Air Force had been largely crippled, German armored units were marauding across wide areas of France. Columns of refugees were blocking the roads,  seriously interfering with military operations. The French government had evacuated Paris for Bordeaux, and on June 16 the combative Paul Reynaud resigned as premier, to be replaced by the aged Philippe Petain.

    And by June 18, the cadets of the French Cavalry School at Saumur, in obedience to the orders of their Commandant, had taken position to defend the bridgeheads across the Loire. It was a military operation that had been the subject of war-game exercises at the school for years, but few had imagined it would ever be carried out in earnest. The 800 cadets and instructors were joined by 200 Algerian riflemen, by various units in the vicinity, and by volunteers whose units had disintegrated but who wished to continue fighting. Arrayed against this small and ill-equipped force would be the German First Cavalry Division—more than 10,000 men, well-equipped with tanks and artillery.

    The Battle of Samaur is the subject of an excellent photo essay….there is also a Wikipedia page.

    The German attack started just before midnight on June 18. The cadets and their associated units held out until late on June 20. French casualties were 79 killed and 47 wounded–one of those killed was the composer Jehan Alain.  German casualties are estimated at 200-300.

    The German commander, General Kurt Feldt, was very impressed by the tenacity of the French defense, and so indicated in his report. On July 2, someone in the German command structure–probably Feldt–decided that out of respect for their courage and sacrifice in the battle, the cadets would be allowed to leave the school and transit into the Unoccupied Zone, rather than being interned as prisoners of war. He advised them to get going quickly, before someone in higher authority could countermand his order.

    The most comprehensive English-language source on the Battle of Saumur is the book For Honour Alone, by Roy Macnab.


    Posted in Britain, France, Germany, History, War and Peace | 4 Comments »

    The elephant in the room.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 19th June 2013 (All posts by )

    The Chicago Teachers Union president is lashing out at the villains in the school mess.

    “When are we going to address the elephant in the room?

    Say What ???

    “When will we address the fact that rich, white people, think they know what’s in the best interest of children of African Americans and Latinos—no matter what the parent’s income or education level,” she said, according to

    Oh. That elephant !!!

    How about this one ?

    What is it with these union bosses ?

    Posted in Big Government, Chicagoania, Education, Humor, Unions | 18 Comments »

    Aerodynamics, Art History, and the Assignment of Names

    Posted by David Foster on 19th June 2013 (All posts by )

    Several years ago, I was having lunch on the restaurant deck at my local airport. At the table next to me was a couple with a young girl, maybe about 4 years old.

    “What makes the airplane fly?” asked the mother.

    “Buh..buh,” said the little girl.

    “That’s right,” the beaming mother completed the phrase, “Bernoulli’s principle!”

    Now, I give this couple credit for taking the kid to the airport and trying to encourage cause-and-effect thinking about why things happen. But I really don’t think that teaching a 4-year-old to parrot “Bernoulli’s Principle” is the right way to do it. Far better, IMO, to say something like “When the airplane goes fast, that makes a wind under the wings, and that holds the airplane up.” This explanation would not pass muster with an aerodynamicist, but is far more useful, in terms of actual understanding, than giving the girl a keyword as explanation. To tell someone that Bernoulli’s Principle makes airplanes fly, when they don’t know what Bernoulli’s Principle IS,  is no more useful than telling them that lift is generated by friendly invisible fairies under the wings. (And the fairies are much more charming.)

    I was reminded of this little incident by a story in the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of Scientific American MIND. The headline says that “the trend in early education is to move from a play-based curriculum to a more school-like environment of directed learning.” An excerpt from the story:

    On a perfect Southern California morning not long ago, a gaggle of children gathered in the backyard of a million-dollar home in an upscale Los Angeles neighborhood to celebrate the birthday of twin four-year-old girls…Most of the kids at the party attend the same preschool. The father of one child enrolled there, where tuition is $14,300 a year for half a day, was asked what he likes about it.

    “I like that my daughter can tell me what kind of whale it is we see in a movie,” said the man, sporting a seersucker jacket. “They seem to be teaching things that other schools don’t.”

    “You ask them what they did in school today,” chimed in another day, “and they’re like, ‘Oh, today we learned about pointillism.’ There’s a whole series on Picasso, a four-month project on Klimt.”

    I submit that, for a four-year-old, it would be much, much more valuable to spend time doing their own painting and drawing than on learning to categorize well-known works according to the accepted categorization scheme. Having them also view the works of great artists is also fine, but should be done with an emphasis on seeing, not on name and category recognition.

    Forty years ago, in The Age of Discontinuity, Peter Drucker commented on the role of the arts in education:

    Today music appreciation is a respected academic discipline (even though it tends to be a deadly bore for the kids who have to memorize a lot of names when they have never heard the music). Playing an instrument or composing are considered, however, amateurish or “trade school.” This is not very bright, even if school is considered vocational preparation for the scribe. When school becomes general education for everyone, it is lunacy.

    The art program in the preschool described above sounds a lot like the kind of music appreciation courses that Drucker was criticizing.

    I’m afraid that American society is increasingly dominated by a kind of faux intellectualism that values “smartness” very highly (Smart cars! Smart diplomacy! Smart power!) but defines such smartness largely in terms of being able to fit everything in the world into approved categories.

    Moliere, in The Imaginary Invalid, mocked a group of physicians whose “explanation” of the effects of opium was that the drug induced sleep because it contained “dormative powers.”  There is still plenty of this kind of “thinking” going on today.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Aviation, Education, Human Behavior, Philosophy | 12 Comments »