Power and Oil

In the NY Times they had an article on the possible partition of Middle Eastern countries in the wake of the Syrian uprising. It long has been taught that the borders of the Middle East are a “mistake” made by the Western powers when they carved the region up amongst themselves. The unspoken message is that all the “troubles” in the area would have been avoided had the Western powers split the countries up according to tribal, religious or other lines that could have resulted in more cohesive states. Much of this may be true – many of the borders appear arbitrary – and yet lands and territories changed hands many times across the historical record.

An area of interest to me is Eastern Saudi Arabia, which the NY Times listed (as conjecture) as possibly a separate country. On many dimensions that is logical; the population of that province has a large Shiite composition and this makes it distinct from the rest of Saudi Arabia (which is supposedly 95% Sunni, although figures are not necessarily to be trusted). Historically these Shiites faced heavy discrimination, (data is sketchy and incomplete) as summarized in this wikipedia article:

They have usually been denounced as heretics, traitors, and non-Muslims. Shias were accused of sabotage, most notably for bombing oil pipelines in 1988. A number of Shias were even executed. In response to Iran’s militancy, the Saudi government collectively punished the Shia community in Saudi Arabia by placing restrictions on their freedoms and marginalizing them economically.Wahabi ulama were given the green light to sanction violence against the Shia. What followed were fatwas passed by the country’s leading cleric, Abdul-Aziz ibn Baz which denounced the Shias as apostates. Another by Adul-Rahman al-Jibrin, a member of the Higher Council of Ulama even sanctioned the killing of Shias. This call was reiterated in Wahabi religious literature as late as 2002.

While these sorts of oppressive behaviors on the parts of the majority are generally tied to rebellion and are logical for the NY Times to think of as possible separate states, this neglects the key fact that the world’s largest oil field, the Ghawar Field, is located in that province. The idea that the Sunnis in Saudi Arabia would give up their oil, which accounts for 80% of revenues, is incredibly naive. The Saudis would never give up their oil, for it is the sole engine of their economy and standard of living. It isn’t known what they’d do if there was a serious rebellion in the area, but I would have to assume that they would take whatever steps were necessary to curtail it and keep the oil flowing. It should be relatively easy for the Saudi government to accomplish this due to their wealth and strength in numbers.

One way to do this would be just to hire mercenaries, which is a tool that the (minority) government in Bahrain is using to hold onto power. Bahrain’s situation is trickier since the Sunni government is a minority in this oil-rich country, but the use of force and violence has been enough to keep the rebellion at bay. One tool for the Bahrain government has been to hire Sunni mercenaries:

For decades, the Bahraini authorities have been recruiting Sunni foreign nationals in the security forces from different countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq (Ba’athists), Yemen and Pakistan (Baluch) in order to confront any popular movement that usually comes from the Shia majority.

The idea that governments will give up valuable resources in the name of minority rights is a laughable Western idea. The NY Times map is a non-starter. The wealthy and powerful will not give up the (sole) source of their wealth without a tremendous fight from a determined and powerful enemy.

Cross posted at LITGM

Robert Reich Movie “Inequality for All”

I saw the movie “Inequality for All” starring Robert Reich, the former labor secretary for Bill Clinton and a very short guy (he’s 4′ 11″) who is pretty personable and funny. Reich uses his day job as a university professor while teaching a class to illustrate his thoughts on inequality from the movie.

In the movie he attempts to link:
– decline in average wages, in “real” terms (adjusted for inflation)
– growth in the highest wages (the top 1%)
– with various factors, including globalization, automation, declines in unions, and the financial bubble
– income inequality with lower marginal tax rates on the rich

There are certainly some concepts in here than anyone can agree with. It would be good if more people in the USA earned a higher salary, had better educations, and were more productive.

In the movie he mentions Warren Buffett, who famously pays a lower marginal tax rate than everyone else in his office, which is due to the fact that he receives long term capital gains and dividend income which are taxed at a lower rate. This is grist for the “raise taxes on the wealthy” discussion, as Buffett plays the likable old man. However, what he fails to mention is that Warren Buffett is the very candidate that the ESTATE TAX is designed to catch… rather than nickel and dime him every year on his assets as they rise in value (and cause friction and force him to sell them off to meet the tax bill), the estate tax would be levied on the super rich and it would effectively make up for the lower marginal rate during his lifetime by taxing increases on his wealth at a rate of 40%, for all amounts greater than about $5M. However, Warren Buffett is choosing to “evade” these taxes by setting up trusts and / or giving it away to his favorite causes; if Warren couldn’t avoid his estate tax through these loopholes (the same way you or I can’t avoid the payroll or sales taxes) then 40% of his $60B estate ($24B) would go to the Federal government, to fund the “investments in people” that Robert Reich is so passionate about. Funny that Reich didn’t call that out (didn’t follow his narrative, apparently).

Another element he fails to mention is the growth in illegal immigration in the USA, and the havoc that this causes with unskilled labor (as they are willing to work for far less). It is funny because two professions he specifically mentions, meat packing and short order cooks, are magnets for immigrants and their arrival is a direct cause for falling wages in these fields. Not surprisingly, Reich didn’t want to alienate a core Democratic group.

There is a rich “pillow manufacturer” who makes $10M+ / year who also describes how ridiculous it is in his opinion that his marginal rate isn’t higher. That same entrepreneur says that he invests in “funds of funds” and due to this he makes money without creating any jobs. That is quite a statement – what do you think those hedge funds invest in? They invest in commodities, stocks, real estate and debt (I’m assuming). When you are an investor and you provide money for stock and debt you are supporting companies that, in turn, hire staff. I can’t believe that Reich let this comment slide, but since it was what Reich wanted to hear, why interject?

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Review of America 3.0 by David Swindle

David Swindle of PJ Media wrote a long, discursive, and strongly favorable review of America 3.0, entitled “On 9/11 and Benghazi’s Anniversary, We End Conservative Pessimism and Right-Wing Apocalypticism”. David focuses on our hopeful message as an antidote to the defeatism which saturates so much thinking on the political right.

The gradually intensified fever-pitch fear-mongering on the Right is both unnecessary and emotionally destructive. People get burnt out by staying in a constant state of crisis. Concrete solutions and practical ways to overcome America’s problems over the course of the next 30 years – not just thinking in four-year election cycles – are needed instead. And it turns out they’re now available.
I’ve been waiting for a book like Bennett and Lotus’s America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity In the 21st Century—Why America’s Greatest Days Are Yet to Come for years. We’ve needed a book that proclaims with confidence and literary elegance both how we got here and how to move forward to bring about unimaginable levels of prosperity.

David concludes with his own stirring message, inspired by the book:

We must stop dwelling in a scared paralysis when confronted with the world’s most evil ideologies – both those in the White House and their allies running wild in the Middle East. Faced forward with eyes open, America 3.0 and the amazing technology we create to enable its birth will overcome both our economic and totalitarian threats. The sun will continue to shine on our nation and again we will prove by our military might and capitalist ingenuity the superiority of our value system, the resilience of our nation, and the Truth of our Creator’s watchful providence over our quest to stand as the City on the Hill, proclaiming the triumph of the Enlightenment through American word and deed.

I can only offer a heartfelt “amen” to these sentiments.

Thanks very much to David for his review. Please RTWT.

Jhumpa Lahiri talks about the Assimilative Power of American Culture Based on the Absolute Nuclear Family (But She Doesn’t Call it That)

In recent interview in the Wall Street Journal the novelist Jhumpa Lahiri discussed growing up in Rhode Island, with Indian parents, and the experience of feeling neither Indian nor American, and about moving to Italy.

She also made these telling comments — without of course using our terminology! — about the assimilative power of a culture based on the Absolute Nuclear Family, as we describe in America 3.0:

“I think the thing I admire about America, and admire even more now that I don’t live here, is that it is a country that absorbs other nations, and one can become an American over time—maybe not my generation, but my kids, yes.” She has found Italy to be more homogenous and less equipped to understand “the phenomenon of otherness.”
Ms. Lahiri still remains skeptical of America’s ability to fully understand the idea, too. Looking back at her childhood, she marvels at how difficult it was for her parents to keep their Bengali identities. The U.S. “just absorbs everything,” she says, sighing. “It accommodates differences but always extinguishes them in some way.”

Ms. Lahiri is absolutely right that it is a multi-generational process to become American. But in the end, people really do become American. She is also right that other cultures that lack the individualistic culture of America have a tougher time incorporating others. As Emmanuel Todd wrote, the ANF culture expects siblings to be different, and has comparatively less difficulty accepting differences between individuals. As a result, Americans see little of interest in the “phenomenon of otherness.” It simply does not matter. Diversity is naturally occurring and expected. Further, the voluntaristic nature of American culture, where individuals form a web of personal, voluntary bonds, without relying on group solidarity, makes it easier to incorporate people from other cultures who are able to play by the American “rules of the game.” Ms. Lahiri is also correct that America “just absorbs everything” and this process “extinguishes” differences. The melting pot analogy has a basis in fact, though some groups have proven less “meltable” than others. And to be melted and be absorbed is not a wholly costless or painless process.

In our book we make this reference to the process of assimilation:

The story of immigrants coming to America for opportunity and freedom, but feeling they are losing their children to a culture they do not always like or understand, is an old one that has been repeated many times. There is an element of sadness to this. This process of loss of the old way of life may be felt as tragic by the parents, but it has been a triumph for Americans over the centuries. We have peacefully, though not painlessly, assimilated millions of people, one marriage and one family at a time, into a shared culture. It is part of the price, often unrecognized, that many people paid to come to America and be part of it. Assimilation to our culture is not costless, but it has hopefully been worth the price over time, to most people who came here and to their children and grandchildren.

Ms. Lahiri mentions being raised by Indian parents who remained Indian, and that she is neither Indian nor American. I have not read any of her books, but they are apparently about the struggle of immigrants to the USA to fit in here while maintaining ties to the old country, and the process of later generations losing those ties and becoming focused on their personal and family concerns.

This is a process that has been going on for centuries, and likely will go on for centuries to come.

(I got a copy of her first book, a short story collection, called Interpreter of Maladies. There is no saying if or when I will get to it!)

History Friday: Deconstructing the P-51 Mustang Historical Narrative

One of the things that pops up again and again in researching World War 2 (WW2) is how certain “narratives” get established in the historical record. Narratives that often are no where near the ground truth found in primary source documents of the time, but serves the bureaucratic “powers that be” in post-war budget battles. These narrative are repeated over and over again by historians without validating these narrative against either that theater’s original wartime documents or those of other military theaters. That is why I said the following:

“Reality lives in the details. You have to know enough of the details to know what is vital and to be able to use good judgement as to which histories are worthwhile and which are regurgitated pap.

Today’s column will take that “Reality lives in the details” methodology, modify it slightly, as I did in my 12 July 2013 column “History Friday — MacArthur’s Fighter Drop Tanks,” and use it for “Deconstructing the P-51 Mustang Historical Narrative” that emerged from the American strategic bombing campaign in World War 2.

The narrative of the P-51 is how it won the air war over Europe through the accidental combination of private venture American airframe technology and the Merlin engine of the British Spitfire, which was championed by a Anglo-American guerrilla clique of fighter pilots, government bureaucrats and politicians over the anti-British, not invented here, USAAF procurement bureaucracy. Figure one below is the official historical narrative for the P-51 Mustang in a range/performance map.

(NOTE: Left clicking on each figure three times will cause the original image of each figure to appear on your monitor.)

FIGHTER RANGE MAP -- Paul Kennedy's "Engineers of Victory"
Figure 1: FIGHTER RANGE MAP — from Paul Kennedy’s “Engineers of Victory”

This P-51 versus other fighter range/performance graph comes from page 128 of a chapter titled “How to Win Command The Air” in Paul Kennedy’s recent book “Engineers of Victory.” It from the official victory narrative of the US Army Air Force Heavy Bomber Clique, the so-called “Bomber Mafia.” which was the leadership faction of bomber pilots that controlled the USAAF, lead the fight over Europe and the founded the US Air Force as a separate military service.

You see versions of that chart through out post war institutional histories like Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate’s, six volume “The Army Air Force in World War II,” and more recent works like the 1992 Richard G. Davis biography, “Carl A. Spaatz and the Air War in Europe” (See figure 2 below the fold).

It also happens that, when you drill down to the wartime source documents, the “P-51 narrative” that map represents is a very good example of selectively telling the truth to create a complete fabrication. A fabrication meant to hide those same bomber pilot generals from political accountability for their leadership failures. Roughly 2/3 of all battle deaths the USAAF suffered in WW2 were in Europe during the strategic bombing campaign. It was a statistically true statement to say a U.S. Army combat infantryman in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, from late 1942-to-winter 1944 had a greater chance of surviving combat than a B-17 crewman of the 8th Air Force.

Most of those deaths were demonstrably unnecessary.

The Battle of Britain in 1940 made clear that killing enemy fighter pilots faster than well trained replacements can arrive is how one achieves air superiority. The key innovation that created air superiority over Europe wasn’t the technical and organization triumph that Kennedy describes with the introduction of the P-51 into combat. It was a _doctrinal change_ that allowed the use of existing fighters with droppable auxiliary fuel tanks. Fighters with drop tanks were used in three shifts to cover the bomber formations during a. Penetration of enemy air space, b. At the target area and c. During withdrawal, too which the long range P-51 was added. The three shift fighter escort doctrine allowed USAAF fighters to drop fuel tanks and dog fight for 30 minutes with full engine power with German fighters, while still protecting the bombers. Enemy fighters that attacked American fighters were not attacking US bombers, and enemy pilots dying in such fights did not come back to kill anything.

Recognition of the need for this doctrinal change was only possible after the Bomber Mafia’s Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS) approved self-escorting heavy bomber doctrine failed the test of combat during the 14 Oct 1943 Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission over Southern Germany.

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John Fonte Review of America 3.0, “E Pluribus Bonum”

John Fonte’s thoughtful review of America 3.0 is entitled “E Pluribus Bonum.” Mr. Fonte is paraphrasing the motto of the United States, E Pluribus Unam — one from many. He is saying from many, the good.

Mr. Fonte’s professional concern in many of his writings has been on immigration, assimilation and national culture. And he correctly notes that we argue that America has indeed formed something good out of the many who have come here. We note the extraordinary assimilative powers of the American people, and of the Anglosphere generally in our book.

The mantra “We are a nation of immigrants” is repeated endlessly, but this incantation is essentially misleading. The addition of one adjective, “assimilated,” as in, “We are a nation of assimilated immigrants,” would greatly clarify our understanding of American identity. The question then becomes, Assimilated to what?

In America 3.0, we answer that question.

“Our American culture today,” Bennett and his co-author, Michael J. Lotus, tell us, “is part of a living and evolving organism, spanning centuries.” At the center of that culture is the American nuclear family. In the American nuclear family (as opposed to the traditional extended family), individuals are free to select their own spouses; grown children leave their parents’ homes and form new households; women enjoy a high degree of freedom compared with those in other cultures; children have no legal right to demand any inheritance from their parents; parents have no legal right to demand support from their adult children; and people have no right to expect help from their relatives.
The consequences of the American type of nuclear family, according to Bennett and Lotus, are that Americans are more individualistic, entrepreneurial, and mobile than other peoples. Suburbia is a major consequence, as American nuclear families prefer dispersed single-family homes over dense urban arrangements. Despite what they admit are “chaotic” changes in American family life, Bennett and Lotus do not “anticipate a basic change in cultural attitudes” that are “shaped by upbringing, language, institutions, and unconscious patterns of behavior that take centuries to form.”
Applying their anthropological-historical analysis, the authors note that the nuclear family emerged among the English. Bennett and Lotus state explicitly that the English family type became the American-style nuclear family, and this “underlying Anglo-American family type was the foundation for all the institutions, laws, and cultural practices that gave rise to our freedom and prosperity over the centuries.”

Mr. Fonte concludes on this note:

Bennett and Lotus have produced a very important evergreen book making a strong case for their myriad arguments. Interest among the conservative intelligentsia should be intense. There have already been endorsements from Glenn Reynolds, Michael Barone, Jonah Goldberg, and John O’Sullivan. Rebuttals from our friends at the Claremont Institute are sure to come: As Straussians rather than Burkeans, they will insist that politics (the Declaration of Independence) trumps culture (the nuclear family).

We are grateful to Mr. Fonte for his encouraging review. RTWT.

Daniel Hannan Review of America 3.0

Daniel Hannan‘s wonderful review of America 3.0 is entitled “America’s greatest days lie ahead – provided she is true to herself.” This is a sentiment with which we heartily agree.

Mr. Hannan understands and concurs with the both the letter and the spirit of our book. For example, he shares our fundamental optimism:

A generation from now, Americans will be richer, more leisured, healthier and longer-lived than ever. That sentence could have been written at any time since the Mayflower landed (at least of the settlers; it was a different story for the indigenous tribes). It would always have prompted scepticism; and it would always have been true.
These days, it is a sentiment we rarely hear, which is all the more reason to pay attention when we do. In America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the Twenty-First Century, James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus begin by conjuring a cheerful vision of the United States in 2040.
… such a vision may look naïve. But when we ponder human history up to the present, it’s entirely plausible.

Mr. Hannan also agrees with our argument regarding the critical importance of the absolute nuclear family.

The point of the book is not to laud or criticise the Anglosphere’s nuclear family, but to show why it is immediately responsible for the individualistic culture that we share with only a handful of lands (notably the Nordic countries and the Netherlands). It made possible capitalism, because economic relationships were primarily mediated through cash rather than family obligations. It facilitated the industrial revolution, because people did not feel tied to their family plots. It opened up vast new landmasses to settlement, as children set out to establish their own nuclear families. It encouraged the assimilation of immigrants, who could make their way as individuals (though some first-generation Americans understandably struggle to adjust to the unfamilial attitudes of their children). It explains why we hanker after our own little plots, instead of living in neatly stacked apartments – or, to flip it about, it explains the suburbs that foreign visitors find so ugly and vulgar.

Please RTWT.

And go ahead and preorder Mr. Hannan’s forthcoming book, Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World. Mr. Hannan tells he draws on many of the same sources we do, and we are eager to see his take on the history.

Possible South Florida Meetup, Saturday 28 September

La Vallée-de-Jacmel, Haïti

If all goes well, I will be arriving at MIA on American 1665 from Port-au-Prince at 3:35 PM local time this Saturday. The plan, such as it is, is that I call Jonathan once I am through customs. I somewhat inappropriately made reservations for lodging much closer to FLL, just because I like the place (Villa Europa in Hollywood) and haven’t had the chance to stay there in a while. So anyway, southern Floridians interested in a probable wide-ranging and somewhat ethanol-assisted discussion (#civilsociety #crisisof2020 #statefailure #younameit) are encouraged to contact Jonathan and … figure something out. Hey, I have people for that.

Al Shabaab’s Sarajevo in Nairobi

There is a profound moral dimension to the photos and videos coming out of Kenya.

They are showing a multiracial civilization — an up-scale mall is the commercial epitome of modern civilization — under attack with multiracial cops and generally black African military saving multiracial civilians from faceless terrorist barbarians.

There is a huge message about the nature of our terrorist enemy that will resonate with the Western public in much the same way that pictures and video from Sarajevo did in the 1990s vis-a-vis the Serbs.

This Al Shabaab atrocity for publicity and fund raising will cost them and their Islamist co-belligerents far more in the long run.

Dehumanization works both ways.

David Ronfeldt’s In-Depth Review of America 3.0

Cross-posted from zenpundit.com


 David Ronfeldt, RAND strategist and theorist has done a deep two-part  review of America 3.0 over at his Visions from Two Theories blog. Ronfeldt has been spending the last few years developing his TIMN analytic framework (Tribes, Institutions [hierarchical], Markets and Networks) which you can get a taste from here  and here or a full reading with this RAND paper.

David regards the familial structure thesis put forward by James Bennett and Michael Lotus in America 3.0 as “captivating”  and “compelling” for  “illuminating the importance of the nuclear family for America’s evolution in ways that, in my view, help validate and reinforce TIMN”. Both reviews are detailed and should be read in their entirety, but I will have some excerpts below:

America 3.0 illuminates significance of nuclear families — in line with TIMN (Part 1 of 2) 

….Bennett and Lotus show at length (Chapter 2, pp. 29-45) that the nuclear family explains a lot about our distinctive culture and society:

“It has caused Americans to have a uniquely strong concept of each person as an individual self, with an identity that is not bound by family or tribal or social ties. … Our distinctive type [of] American nuclear family has made us what we are.” (p. 29)And “what we are” as a result is individualistic, liberty-loving, nonegalitarian (without being inegalitarian), competitive, enterprising, mobile, and voluntaristic. In addition, Americans tend to have middle-class values, an instrumental view of government, and a preference for suburban lifestyles. 

As the authors carefully note, these are generally positive traits, but they have both bright and dark sides, noticeable for example in the ways they make America a “high-risk, high-return culture” (p. 38) — much to the bane of some individuals. The traits also interact in interesting ways, such that Americans tend to be loners as individuals and families, but also joiners “who form an incomprehensibly dense network of voluntary associations” — much to the benefit of civil society (p. 39). 

In sum, the American-style nuclear family is the major cause of “American exceptionalism” — the basis of our freedom and prosperity, our “amazing powers of assimilation” (p. 53), and our unique institutions:

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How to Win the Debt Ceiling Battle

I don’t have the time nor inclination to argue why the GOP is self-destructing in its idiotic drive to trigger a shutdown of the government. It suffices to say that such shutdown likely costs the GOP the House in 2014 at a juncture where it probably could win the Senate…

…If the party (or its waxing, aggressive right flank) wasn’t insane.


The reason for this post is to propose a solution for the upcoming budget crises/debt-ceiling battle. I call it the “Rolling Sequester,” and it is designed to attract independents and fiscally conservative voters, not drive them away in droves.

Rather than layout the plan on this blog post, I’ve uploaded the 2-page memo that I sent to some folks in DC. I hope it finds its way into the hands of someone who can do something with it. Maybe the readers of this blog can help with that.

Critiques welcome.

Rolling Sequester Strategy

Your “Art” Only Matters Because Our Country is Wealthy

Historically art in the West exists and has monetary value because our country has wealth and buyers who want to collect it. Recently buyers in China have been on the rise, along with a corresponding value on what “they” would perceive as art (i.e., Ming vases, and a lot of modern Chinese artists, as well). This article describes their growth:

Chinese spending on art remains robust in 2013. That’s despite a dip in the market last fall and an economic slowdown that recently knocked the Asian nation off its perch as the art world’s biggest spender and back behind the former perennial leader, the United States.

In a broader sense, there is a question of what drives art, and why some situations with incredible pathos don’t receive the attention they deserve (or much attention at all). For instance there are 1 million children who have been displaced or made into refugees in Syria due to their ongoing civil war. Can you imagine the stories, paintings, movies and television that this story would drive in the West? While we watch “reality” shows about dancing and singing and our “serious” fare covers meth dealers in New Mexico, why aren’t the amazing stories of war (and sometimes redemption, or bitter relapse) grist for “art”?

As I follow the Congo wars and civil wars, I am also amazed by the dearth of real or fictionalized accounts of either the war itself or its impact on civilians. There is little even though the scale of suffering and conflict is so wide, and the participants so varied.

For instance, imagine yourself as a writer in Syria or in the Congo. You have all the grist for art all around you. And yet… no one cares, because it doesn’t matter (much) to those that buy and produce art of all types, since they are in the West or part of the growing contingent in Asia.

It is interesting to me because artists and liberal arts types often view commerce with distaste, and act as if the world would somehow be better if we all dropped our focus on money and attended a play or modern dance or something like that. They believe that there is a “choice” and they can pursue their dreams, even though their dreams are subsidized and provided for by the wealth that is generated by the world of business, and protected by our force of arms, which they also despise.

Without wealth and military power (or the cover of someone else’s military power, as much of Europe and Asia shield under the US umbrella), art itself is a tiny, meaningless cry in the night. There is no intrinsic “value” in art unless the culture can support and (often) export it. Countries can support their own culture, as France and Italy work hard to do, but this is also tied to their value in the tourism trade and linked to their economic value as “open air museums” since little is actually manufactured or driven from these countries anymore. French literature, which made large impressions in the past (Sartre, etc…) is effectively invisible in the US today, although we’d gladly go visit and tour and drink wine and partake in the fabulous views.

Another facet of this phenomenon is the growth in “blockbuster” films that are populated with aliens, comic book figures, or supernatural events. These movies sell around the world, while indie-type movies (or even movies with relationships) are relegated to third class citizenship. If it can’t be explained or viewed in a generic manner understandable across cultures, then it isn’t wanted by our major studios. Certainly the Oscars don’t agree with this model, as they continue to hand out awards to movies that 99.999% of the world wide movie population doesn’t see, while ignoring the giant comic-book based movies taking over the screens. The “artists” there are being subsidized by the money-making tent-pole films, although the studios are extremely profit focused and at some point they won’t be be throwing those artists crumbs anymore (after all, they have to pay for expensive mansions and lavish lifestyles and the “cloak” of artistic merit is only worth so much).

Cross posted at LITGM

Chicago Sunset

Recently I attended a rooftop charity event at the “Life Storage” building in River North. I was able to get a photo of the sunset facing west (I rarely get to shoot in that direction).

River North, the district where I live, is in the midst of a giant building boom and is among the hottest districts in Chicago. Seemingly every empty lot or older building is either being built on from scratch or redeveloped, and the Life Storage building is no exception.

Cross posted at LITGM

Illinois Legislators’ Lincolns

Way back in the day when LITGM used to do a bit more of the political type articles I wrote about Illinois representatives’ automobiles. I confused the Lincoln Navigator that Danny Davis (district one) drove vs. the Ford equivalent that Jesse Jackson Jr. drove, and a bit of web hilarity ensued.

Recently I saw another politician’s car and the first thing I did was look it up – and this Lincoln is owned by a Republican in the 6th district, which happened to be Henry Hyde’s old district. It is a matter of how jaded I’ve become that the fact that an elected official drives a Lincoln is barely worth a web peep.

While American’s think that “big money” has captured politics, it is literally nothing compared to the wealth of China’s politicians. This WSJ article describes how wealthy the top Chinese politicians are vs. the USA…

According to the Hurun Report, as cited by Bloomberg, the 70 richest delegates in China’s National People’s Congress have a combined net worth of 565.8 billion yuan or $89.8 billion. That’s more than 10 times the combined net worths of all the members of Congress, the Supreme Court and the President. (Their collective riches are only $7.5 billion.)

Thus I can only imagine the rage I’d have over the same type of rich trappings if I were Chinese. Unfortunately, they can’t vote, and protests tend to go down badly with authorities. As bad as our system is, in terms of being captured by the interests of the wealthy, it is a comparatively egalitarian route compared to our largest economic competitor.

Cross posted at LITGM

Freedom, the Village, and the Internet

I’ve reviewed two books by German writer Hans Fallada: Little Man, What Now?, and Wolf Among Wolves (the links go to the reviews), both of which were excellent. I recently finished his novel Every Man Dies Alone, which is centered on a couple who become anti-Nazi activists after their son Ottochen is killed in the war…it was inspired by, and is loosely based on, the true story of  a real-life couple who distributed anti-Nazi postcards and were executed for it.

I thought this book was also excellent…the present post, though, is not a book review, but rather a development of some thoughts inspired by a particular passage in the story.

Trudel, who was Ottochen’s fiancee, is a sweet and intelligent girl who is strongly anti-Nazi..and unlike Ottochen’s parents, she became an activist prior to being struck by personal tragedy: she is a member of a resistance cell at the factory where she works.  But she finds that she cannot stand the unending psychological strain of underground work–made even worse by the rigid and doctrinaire man (apparently a Communist) who is leader of the cell–and she drops out. Another member of the cell, who has long been in love with her, also finds that he is not built for such work, and drops out also.

After they marry and Trudel becomes pregnant, they decide to leave the politically hysterical environment of Berlin for a small town where–they believe–life will be freer and calmer.

Like many city dwellers, they’d had the mistaken belief that spying was only really bad in Berlin and that decency still prevailed in small towns. And like many city dwellers, they had made the painful discovery that recrimination, eavesdropping, and informing were ten times worse in small towns than in the big city. In a small town, everyone was fully exposed, you couldn’t ever disappear in the crowd. Personal circumstances were quickly ascertained, conversations with neighbors were practically unavoidable, and the way  such conversations could be twisted was something they had already experienced in their own lives, to their chagrin.

Reading the above passage, I was struck by the thought that if we are now living in an “electronic village”…even a “global village,” as Marshall McLuhan put it several decades ago…then perhaps that also means we are facing some of the unpleasant characteristics that–as Fallada notes–can be a part of village life. And these characteristics aren’t something that appears only in eras of insane totalitarianism such as existed in Germany during the Nazi era. Peter Drucker, in Managing in the Next Society, wrote 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…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.

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History Friday – The Tireless Mr. Colt

(Part the second, first part here.)
The redesigned and improved revolver – the Walker Colt – turned out to be a nearly five-pound brute of a weapon, and returned Sam to the arms-manufacturing business with renewed zest. He subcontracted production of them first with Eli Whitney Blake (nephew of Eli Whitney) at Blake’s Whitneyville armory. The contract specified that the machinery used would revert back into Colt’s ownership at completion of the contract – for Sam had set up shop in a former cotton mill in Hartford, Connecticut. He incorporated the company as Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company. He held most of the shares; trusted friends and relatives held the remainder.

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Book Review – The Secret Race – Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France by Tyler Hamilton

The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France


I first heard of this book when I was in France last summer. Of course everybody already knew that pretty much the whole peloton was on drugs, but Hamilton’s book presents a lot of the hows and whys.

When I got back from France I bought the book and finally had a chance to read it and wow – the things these guys do to themselves are absolutely crazy. At least to us mortals.

Hamilton tells the story of how difficult it is to be at the top levels of pro cycling, and just exactly what it took to get there, and stay there.

Of the most interest to me was how they knew how to beat most of the doping tests, and always stayed one step ahead of the testers.

Hamilton is brutal on himself as well, which is refreshing. He fully admits he cheated and while pointing the finger at other riders, is always sure to point the finger at himself first and hardest.

This book was written before Lance came out and finally admitted to doping, and there is an afterword in the current edition that speaks to this part of the saga.

I still feel that these guys are all doping in one way or another – I just don’t see how they can do what they do without it. In fact, I would just assume that at this point all major college and pro athletes are getting “help” in one fashion or another.

This book is very easy to read and explains some pretty interesting things about how the different drugs do what they do, and how they do it. It also explains how blood transfusions help the riders out, and how the doctors were pretty sophisticated for the most part in spreading out the drug doses and transfusions to beat the testers.

There is also a lot of cloak and dagger stuff in the book, describing how they were able to acquire the drugs and blood, how they stored them, transported them, and how the drugs and blood bags were administered.

I am sure that almost all of the riders from this part of cycling history will have major adverse health issues later in life – and some are already dead or are having major problems. One cancer doctor that I rode with in France said that it was his opinion that Lance highly increased his chances of getting testicular cancer from the drugs he took, and that after beating cancer and taking more drugs that Lance’s chances of getting that disease again are very high.

All for fame and money. Sigh.

If you are interested in cycling and/or want an easy to understand read about how the drug culture in that sport worked I highly recommend this book. The only question it left me with was that I now wonder what these guys are on now.

Cross posted at LITGM.

Independence and Rights

Originally posted at the Scholar’s Stage, 15 September 2013.

 “The Freedman”
John Quincy Adam Ward. 1863. Displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The phrase “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” is a truism long accepted. I do not question the general truth this phrase attempts to convey, but I sometimes find it obscures more than it reveals. Men on opposing lines of battle may both fight in the name of freedom yet be fighting for very different things. “Freedom” comes in all shapes and sizes; when a Pashtun elder uses a word like freedom he may not be thinking anything close to the thoughts expressed at the average American Independence Day parade.

The freedom fighters of the American revolution fought in the name of liberty. The liberty they battled for came in two distinct flavors, each reflecting an esteemed political tradition inherited from their brothers across the sea. The first is the classical liberal tradition; the second the classical republican. In many ways the political history of the republic they founded was an attempt to reconcile these two traditions. [1]

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301 Years of Steam Power

In 1712, Thomas Newcomen erected a steam engine of his own design near Dudley, in the West Midlands of England, thereby kicking off the age of steam. (Yes, this would have made a better post last year, to mark a round 300-year anniversary, but better late than never..)

We were told in the 5th grade that the steam engine had been invented by James Watt after noticing the way that the steam pressure in a teapot could cause the lid to lift a little. A nice story, but (a) James Watt did not invent the steam engine, and (b) early steam engines did not work the way that the teapot story would suggest.

In ancient Greece there were some experiments with the use of steam power to create mechanical motion; thereafter nothing significant happened in this field until the late 1600s, when Thomas Savery invented a device for raising water by steam: it was intended to address the growing problem of removing water from mines. Savery’s invention was conceptually elegant, with no moving parts other than the valves: unfortunately, it could not handle a water lift of more than about 30 feet, which was far insufficient for the very deep mines which were then becoming increasingly common.

Newcomen’s engine filled a cylinder with low-pressure steam, which was then abruptly cooled by the injection of a water jet. This created a partial vacuum, which pulled the piston down with great force–these were called “atmospheric” engines, because the direct motive force came from air pressure, with the role of the steam being simply to create the vacuum when condensed. After the piston reached the bottom of the cylinder, it would be pulled upwards by a counterweight, and the cycle would repeat. (See animation here.)  Conceptually simple, but modern reconstructors have found it quite difficult to get all the details right and build an engine that will actually work.

These engines were extremely inefficient, real coal hogs, requiring about 25 pounds of coal per horsepower per hour. They were employed primarily for water removal at coal mines, where coal was by definition readily available and was relatively cheap. But as the cotton milling industry grew, and good water-power sites to power the machinery became increasingly scarce, Newcomen engines were also employed for that service. For example, in 1783 a cotton mill–complete with a 30-foot waterwheel–was constructed at Shudhill, near Manchester..which seemed odd given that there was no large stream or river there to drive it. The mill entrepreneurs built two storage ponds at different levels, with the waterwheel in between them, and installed a Newcomen engine to recycle the water continuously. The engine was very large–with a cylinder 64 inches in diameter and a stroke of more than 7 feet–and consumed five tons of coal per day.

Despite their tremendous coal consumption and their high first cost, a considerable number of these engines were installed, enough that someone in 1789 referred to the Newcomen and Savery engines in the Manchester area as common old smoaking engines. The alternative to the Newcomen engine described above would have been the use of actual horses–probably at least 100 of them, if my guesstimate of 40 horsepower for this engine is correct. These early engines resembled the mainframe computers of the early 1950s, in that they were bulky, expensive, resource-intensive, and limited in their fields of practical applicability…but, within those fields, absolutely invaluable.

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The depressing divide in US understanding of reality.

I read left wing blogs most days to see what the other side thinks. I used to comment but the comments were usually deleted, often without notice, so the nasty responses to my comments would be there the next day but the offending comments would not appear.

The Huffington Post has become a very successful left wing site that advertises itself as moderate. I skim it most days and occasionally comment although my comments are all moderated and I can’t tell if they are deleted or not. I have a few followers so some must appear. Today I went there to see what the left thinks of the Syrian fiasco. The headline was not reassuring. That may change soon but it says “We Have a Deal !” The story follows with a rather naive heading.

The story has over 14 thousand comments, double the number when I read the story earlier this morning. The story is bad enough.

A diplomatic breakthrough Saturday on securing and destroying Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile averted the threat of U.S. military action for the moment and could swing momentum toward ending a horrific civil war.

Marathon negotiations between U.S. and Russian diplomats at a Geneva hotel produced a sweeping agreement that will require one of the most ambitious arms-control efforts in history.

The deal involves making an inventory and seizing all components of Syria’s chemical weapons program and imposing penalties if President Bashar Assad’s government fails to comply will the terms.

After days of intense day-and-night negotiations between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and their teams, the two powers announced they had a framework for ridding the world of Syria’s chemicals weapons.

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History Friday: The 1973 Yom Kippur War…Plus 40 Years

There are few places in history where you see a stand unto death by western militaries that rivals that of the Spartans at Thermopylae. It takes a very special kind of “morale” and “moral” character for any military unit to fight effectively until killed. In 1973, on the Golan Heights, the IDF Armored Corps did just that.

In western military writings you hear a great deal about Avigdor Kahalani’s 77 Regiment of the 7th Armoured Brigade holding off the Syrians with fewer than 25 tanks and almost no ammunition at the end on the Golan Heights. What you don’t hear about is the 188th (Barak) Brigade, which held the southern Golan Heights and was wiped out, but did the following before it died, from this link:


Dead IDF Centurion Tank on the Golan Heights
Dead IDF Centurion Tank on the Golan Heights

The Syrian 1st Armored Division was advancing up the route toward the Golan HQ at Nafakh. Colonel Yitzhak Ben-Shoham, the Barak Brigade’s commander, realized his brigade was for all intents and purposes destroyed. He therefore organized and led a small group of surviving tanks in a holding action that slowed the Syrian advance on his HQ for several hours until he and the rest of the defenders were killed. With the brigade commander dead, no reserves in sight and two Syrian brigades advancing toward the Golan HQ–and with some units having bypassed the base on both flanks–the situation could only be described as grave. Lead elements of the Syrian brigades actually reached Nafakh and broke through the base’s southern perimeter. One Syrian T-55 crashed into General Eitan’s HQ, only to be knocked out by the last operational tank in Gringold’s platoon.
At that point, Eitan evacuated his headquarters to an improvised location farther to the north. Those left to defend the base manned two trackless Centurions from the camp repair depot and fired bazookas in a final stand that knocked out several Syrian tanks until those last Israeli tanks were destroyed.
The 188th Barak Brigade was no more

That was very much a “Thermopylae” any way you cut it. There is a reason the “Valley of Tears” happened in 1973 as it did.

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