Revealing

About every 3 or 4 weeks, Peggy Noonan’s WSJ column has something worthwhile to say.  The September 14 column was one of those times.  Talking about Biden, she cites ‘Whatever it Takes’, Richard Ben Cramer’s history of the 1988 presidential campaign, which she says presages a great deal of what we observe each day of Mr. Biden, and it is suggestive of the origins of the Hunter Biden problems and allegations.

For one thing, Joe Biden has always been obsessed by real estate and fancy houses, and money was always an issue. On a house he would buy a few years into his first Senate term: “The house is gorgeous, an old du Pont mansion in the du Pont neighborhood called Greenville, outside Wilmington. It’s the kind of place a thousand Italian guys died building—hand-carved doorways, a curbing hand-carved grand staircase that Clark Gable could have carried a girl down, a library fit for a Carnegie. . . . And a ballroom—can’t forget the ballroom.” He bid more than he had, “but Biden never let money stand in the way of a deal. He got in the developer’s face and started talking—fast.” He got the house—he always got the houses—and thereafter scrambled to cover its cost.

He wanted it all and had a sharp eye for how to get it. There is a beautiful speech Cramer presents as Mr. Biden’s. He was sitting around a back yard in Wilmington with friends when his sons were young, and Mr. Biden asked, “Where’s your kid going to college?”

His friend said, “Christ, Joe! He’s 8 years old!” Another implied it wasn’t important.

“Lemme tell you something,” Mr. Biden says, with a clenched jaw. “There’s a river of power that flows through this country. . . . Some people—most people—don’t even know the river is there. But it’s there. Some people know about the river, but they can’t get in . . . they only stand at the edge. And some people, a few, get to swim in the river. All the time. They get to swim their whole lives . . . in the river of power. And that river flows from the Ivy League.

See my related post Harvard and America and the discussion here at Chicago Boyz.

Book Review: Year of Consent–Rerun with Additional Commentary

I reviewed this book in 2021.  Published in 1954, it is set in the then-future year of 1990–a time when though the United States is still nominally a democracy, the real power lies with the social engineers…sophisticated advertising & PR men…who use psychological methods to persuade people that they really want what they are supposed to want.  Events in the two years since I posted that review have even more strongly demonstrated the almost overwhelming political power that is exercised by the communications industry–traditional media, social media, also academia–and I think the review is about due for a rerun.  I’ll add some additional thoughts at the end.

The social engineers who are the true masters of the country are aided in their tasks by a giant computer called Sociac (500,000 vacuum tubes! 860,000 relays!) and colloquially known as ‘Herbie.’  The political system now in place is called Democratic Rule by Consent.  While the US still has a President, he is a figurehead and the administration of the country is actually done by the General Manager of the United States….who himself serves at the pleasure of the social engineers.  The social engineers work in a department called ‘Communications’, which most people believe is limited to such benign tasks as keeping the telephones and the television stations in operation.  Actually, its main function is conducting influence operations.

One approach involves the publishing of novels which are fictional, but carry implicit social and/or political messages…via, for example, the beliefs and affiliations of the bad guys versus the good guys. Even the structure of novels is managed for messaging reasons: romance-story plots should not be boy gets girl…loses girl…gets girl back, but rather boy gets girl, loses girl, gets different girl who is really right for him.

Some methods are more direct, although their real objectives are not stated.  One such objective is population control: If the fertility rate is running a little low, advertising is ramped up for a pill called Glamorenes, which are said to create the “rounded, glamorous figure of a TV star…remember–it’s Glamorenes for glamor.”  Actually, the real function of Glamorenes, which is top secret, is to increase a woman’s sex drive and expand the fertility window.  On the other hand, if the birth rate is running too high, the ad emphasis switches to Slimettes for women and Vigorone for men, both of which have a contraceptive effect.  The book’s protagonist, Gerald Leeds, is one of the few who is in on the secret, and when he hears a Glamorenes ad, he realizes that this is the real reason why his girlfriend, Nancy, has been acting especially affectionate lately.

Few people, even at the highest levels of government, realize just how powerful the Communications Department really is.  “Even the biggest wheels only know part of it.  They think the Communications Administrative Department exists to help them–and not the other way around.”

The computer known as Sociac (‘Herby’) accumulates vast amounts of data on individuals, including such things as shopping, dining, and vacation preferences. “Thus, when the administration wanted to make a new move, they knew exactly how to condition the people so that it would be backed. Or they knew exactly what sort of man to put up to win a popular election.” Telephone calls are tapped, but are rarely listened to directly by government agents; rather, they are fed directly to “a calculator” (perhaps a front-end to Herbie) and added to “the huge stock of intimate knowledge about the people.”

Rodeo Songs

Earlier this month, I linked some coal mining songs.  Another prolific source of American music has been the rodeo.  Here are a few songs on that theme that I like.

Bucking Horse Moon, Tom Russell

All This Way for the Short Ride, Tom Russell

Everything That Glitters is Not Gold,  Dan Seals

Someday Soon, Suzy Bogguss

Also Someday Soon, Ian Tyson

Saddle Bronc Girl, Ian Tyson

And this one isn’t about the rodeo, but about a young cowboy and his first cattle drive:

Banks of the Musselshell, Tom Russell

…and the same song by Ian Tyson

Others?

Harvard–A View From 1835

Harriet Martineau was a British writer who has been called ‘the first female sociologist’ and even ‘the mother of sociology.’  (No fair blaming her for the activities of sociologists today!)  From 1834-1836, she paid a long visit to the United States and traveled and observed extensively.  Her comments about Harvard University are interesting:

The politics of the managers of Harvard University are opposed to those of the great body of the American people. She is the aristocratic college of the United States. Her pride of antiquity, her vanity of pre-eminence and wealth, are likely to prevent her renovating her principles and management so as to suit the wants of the period; and she will probably receive a sufficient patronage from the aristocracy, for a considerable time to come, to encourage her in all her faults. She has a great name, and the education she affords is very expensive in comparison with all other colleges. The sons of the wealthy will therefore flock to her. The attainments usually made within her walls are inferior to those achieved elsewhere, her professors (poorly salaried, when the expenses of living are considered) being accustomed to lecture and examine the students, and do nothing more. The indolent and the careless will therefore flock to her. But, meantime, more and more new colleges are rising up, and are filled as fast as they rise, whose principles and practices are better suited to the wants of the time. In them living is cheaper, and the professors are therefore richer with the same or smaller salaries; the sons of the yeomanry and mechanic classes resort to them; and, where it is the practice of the tutors to work with their pupils, as well as lecture to them, a proficiency is made which shames the attainments of the Harvard students. The middle and lower classes are usually neither Unitarian nor Episcopalian, but“orthodox,” as their distinctive term is; and these, the strength and hope of the nation, avoid Harvard, and fill to overflowing the oldest orthodox colleges; and, when these will hold no more, establish new ones.

She attended a Harvard commencement and remarked on the speeches given:

A great variety of exercises were gone through by the young men: orations were delivered, and poems, and dialogues, and addresses. Some of these appeared to me to have a good deal of merit; two or three were delivered by students who relied on their reputation at college, with a manner mixed up of pomposity and effrontery, which contrasted amusingly with the modesty of some of their companions, who did things much more worth of honour. I discovered that many, if not most of the compositions, contained allusions to mob-law; of course, reprobating it. This was very satisfactory, particularly if the reprobation was accompanied with a knowledge of the causes and a recognition of the real perpetrators of the recent illegal violences; a knowledge that they have invariably sprung out of a conflict of selfish interests with eternal principles; and a recognition that their perpetrators have universally been, at first or second hand, aristocratic members of American society.

The next day, Martineau attended the annual meeting of Harvard’s Phi Beta Kappa society:

Prayers were said by the chaplain of the society; and then a member delivered an address. This address was, and is, to me a matter of great surprise. I do not know what was thought of it by the members generally; but if its doctrine and sentiments are at all sanctioned by them, I must regard this as another evidence, in addition to many, that the minority in America are, with regard to social principles, eminently in the wrong. The traveller is met everywhere among the aristocracy of the country with what seems to him the error of concluding that letters are wisdom, and that scholarship is education. Among a people whose profession is social equality, and whose rule of association is universal self-government, he is surprised to witness the assumptions of a class, and the contempt which the few express for the many, with as much assurance as if they lived in Russia or England. Much of this is doubtless owing to the minds of the lettered class having been nourished upon the literature of the old world, so that their ideas have grown into a conformity with those of the subjects of feudal institutions, and the least strong-minded and original indiscriminately adopt, not merely the language, but the hopes and apprehensions, the notions of good and evil which have been generated amidst the antiquated arrangements of European society: but, making allowance for this, as quite to be expected of all but very strong and original minds, it is still surprising that within the bounds of the republic, the insolence should be so very complacent, the contempt of the majority so ludicrously decisive as it is. Self-satisfied, oracular ignorance and error are always as absurd as they are mournful; but when they are seen in full display among a body whose very ground of association is superiority of knowledge and of the love of it, the inconsistency affords a most striking lesson to the observer. Of course, I am not passing a general censure on the Association now under notice; for I know no more of it than what I could learn from the public exercises of this day, and a few printed addresses and poems. I am speaking of the tone and doctrine of the orator of the day, who might be no faithful organ of the society, but whose ways of thinking and expressing himself were but too like those of many literary and professional men whom I met in New England society.

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What Things Cost, Then and Now

When reading about earlier times, the costs of various items are often mentioned, as are  wages for different kinds of work. To get any sense of meaning from these  numbers, they need to be compared somehow with equivalent costs in our present currency. But the estimation of inflation is far from an exact science.

Here’s a site that looks at historical vs current costs from multiple angles:  Measuring Worth.  I haven’t studied it in any detail yet, but it looks interesting.

See also this:  Prices and Wages by Decade, 1600s-2000s

Also What Things Cost in America, 1776-2010