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  • The Old Navy, by Daniel Pratt Mannix III

    Posted by David Foster on December 16th, 2019 (All posts by )

    Admiral Mannix served in the Spanish-American War, the conflicts in Cuba and the Philippines, and the First World War.  His career spanned the years of America’s emergence as a major player on the world stage, and this book offers memorable portraits of the Navy and of America…and of much of the world…during this period.

    After spending his childhood in China (his father was a torpedo expert working for the Chinese government), Mannix entered the US Naval Academy in 1885. When the battleship Maine blew up in Havana harbor and the Spanish-American war erupted in 1898, he requested permission to leave the Academy early, and joined the battleship USS Indianapolis.

    The war resulted in a rapid American victory, despite some serious deficiencies in the American conduct of operations (such as the failure to use smokeless powder), and Mannix observed the sad passage of the Spanish admiral into American captivity, in an open boat, wearing civilian clothes loaned to him by an American captain and with his head lowered in deep dejection: “I was never so sorry for anyone in my life.”  He was impressed by the exquisite courtesy of a badly-wounded Spanish officer who had lost a leg:

    As though making his adieux after an enjoyable evening, he thanked us for our “hospitality” (no, he wasn’t being sarcastic) and expressed his profound regret for the annoyance that his unfortunate arrival had caused…I have met men of all nationalities during my years in the Navy; in “good breeding” none of them could equal the upper-class Spaniards.

    After returning to Annapolis, Mannix graduated in 1900, and he sketches what life was like in America at the turn of the last century: some of the popular songs and comedy acts, the Gibson Girl (“the loveliest of all feminine ideas”, in his view), but also the fear of riots and attempted revolution when President McKinley was assassinated in 1901…New York’s ‘streetcar rowdies’, who molested women and beat up any man who tried to stop them…and a riot in Pensacola’s red-light district which involved civilians, soldiers, and sailors (“a far rougher lot than today’s bluejackets”) and which Mannix led a landing party to suppress.

    In 1903, Mannix was assigned to a “friendly mission” of four warships to German ports, as ordered by Theodore Roosevelt.  “These ‘friendship tours’ were quite common in those days and paradoxically served a dual purpose:  they reminded the foreign power that we had a powerful Navy that could reach their home waters while at the same time allowed the people to meet Americans and learn that we were not all strange, uncivilized barbarians.”

    Assigned as an aide on the Admiral’s staff, aboard the battleship Kearsage, he met many German officers and found them mostly friendly.  The Kaiser also visited Kearsage, and Mannix was impressed that he chatted with the enlisted men as well the officers.  “Much to my surprise, he showed a sense of humor.”

    One potentially-disastrous incident involved a collision between a German (or at least Prussian) custom:  civilians on the street were supposed to give way to any uniform-wearing officer…and an American naval custom:  officers generally did not wear their uniforms when ashore.  This collision of customs lead to a physical collision, followed by the use of fists by the American officer, and a challenge to a duel.  The situation could have led to a serious diplomatic incident had it not been defused.

    Throughout his travels, Mannix enjoyed meeting people from other countries…a view that he says was far from universal.  Speaking of a luncheon given by the Lord Mayor of London, he says, “To my astonishment, most of the junior officers were reluctant to attend the luncheon and would far  rather have spent their time playing cards together or chatting in the wardroom mess.”

    Some of the officers he met at the luncheon were members of the First Life Guards, an “elite” regiment that was open only to the wealthy and titled…”Kipling referred to them contemptuously as the “fatted flunkies of the Army.”  But:

    Twenty years later I was in Constantinople and the Household Brigade of the British Army was stationed there.  I looked over the list to see if I could recognize any old acquaintances.  Among all those names there were only two or three who had titles…Where were all those young earls and baronets and honorables?  They were dead.  Most of them had died in August 1914 during the terrible retreat from Mons when the old British Regular Army virtually ceased to exist.  They were not “fatted flunkies” there.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Americas, Britain, China, Europe, Germany, History, Middle East, Military Affairs, USA, War and Peace | 22 Comments »

    Silly Games

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on December 16th, 2019 (All posts by )

    I swear, every time I think we have reached peak stupid, reality says “Hold my beer and watch this!” The ruckus this past weekend over cadets at the Army-Navy game appearing on live camera making a variant of the “OK” gesture now has elements of the national media, as well as authorities at the two service academies plain old coming unglued. And this is because this gesture is somehow supposed to be associated with so-called ‘white power’/ racial superiority. Great has been the twitter-tornado launched by the particularly clueless activists who happened to notice the upside-down OK gesture; I can only imagine the numbers of boggarts, ghouls and haunts which are currently living under their own beds and in their closets. Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Civil Society, Conservatism, Culture, Current Events, Human Behavior, Humor, Predictions | 18 Comments »

    The Integrity of the Dialectic Must Be Preserved.

    Posted by Stephen Karlson on December 14th, 2019 (All posts by )

    We begin with a general lament by Max Boot.

    Kids, don’t become like Donald Trump. Study history. The fact that so many Americans know so little about the past means that we as a society are vulnerable to demagogues. “Don’t know much about history” is a catchy song lyric but a dangerous motto for a democracy.

    Historians may not want to admit it, but they bear some blame for the increasing irrelevance of their discipline. As historians Hal Brands and Francis Gavin argue in War on the Rocks, since the 1960s, history professors have retreated from public debate into their own esoteric pursuits. The push to emphasize “cultural, social and gender history,” and to pay “greater attention to the experiences of underrepresented and oppressed groups,” they write, has been a welcome corrective to an older historiography that focused almost entirely on powerful white men. But like many revolutions, this one has gone too far, leading to the neglect of political, diplomatic and military history — subjects that students need to study and, as enrollment figures indicate, students want to study but that universities perversely neglect. Historian Jill Lepore notes that we have ditched an outdated national narrative without creating a new one to take its place, leaving a vacuum to be filled by tribalists.

    Put another way, democracy dies in a darkness brought about by, inter alia, writers at influential newspapers. Consider, for instance, the 1619 Project from New York’s Times, which somehow wrote about slavery and secession and emancipation without asking any history professors.
    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Academia, Anti-Americanism, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Education, History, Political Philosophy | 19 Comments »

    Thoughts About Globalization and Borders

    Posted by David Foster on December 14th, 2019 (All posts by )

    Richard Fernandez:

    The componentization phase of globalization has begun. One can’t roll the world back to pre-globalization days, but for it to be sustainable, things have to be encapsulated to safeguard protected memory spaces. There is a need for standard interfaces, not “open borders.” The networked world has been overwhelmed by complexity, whether it takes the form of the breakdown of trusted authority or the dazzling profusion of “collusion.” The intellectual challenge is how to make it safe for people to deal with strangers in a connected world. The problem can be solved but it can’t be solved by people who don’t think it’s a potential problem.

    See also Sarah Hoyt’s post Imagine There’s No Nations and my post Coupling.

    Additionally, a relevant article at Commentary: The Global Citizen Fraud.

     

    Posted in Britain, Deep Thoughts, USA | 13 Comments »

    SPLC Hate – I

    Posted by TM Lutas on December 13th, 2019 (All posts by )

    The Southern Poverty Law Center is the current king of describing hate in the United States of America. But does it do a good job? If the SPLC isn’t fit for purpose, the rot won’t start in listing inappropriate groups. It will inappropriately deal with certain brands of hate or hate ideologies.

    One of the pages on the SPLC website describes hate ideologies. According to the SPLC, there are 20 different ways that Americans hate including the catchall group “General Hate”.

    I didn’t realize hatred was expressed in so few ways. But is hate really expressed in so few ways? In the SPLC telling, whites hate blacks and blacks hate whites. That’s a pretty common result of lived experience. If you receive enough hate, people respond with a hate of their own. The idea that hate only flows in one direction is unnatural and unexpected. You would think that most every long-standing expression of hate would have return fire headed the other direction but that’s not always how the SPLC sees it.

    Misogyny and Misandry naturally pair but only Misogyny (Male Supremacy) gets an entry. Misandry is invisible.

    Phineas Priesthood naturally pairs with Black Bloc as both are not organizations per se but labels describing violent political actions. Black Bloc is invisible to the SPLC.

    Anti-Muslim ideology naturally pairs with Muslim extremism. Muslim extremism is invisible.

    Neo-Confederate longing for the antebellum South naturally pairs for anti-southern bigotry that discriminates against the accent or the address. But the latter is invisible.

    Stuffing hate ideologies down the memory hole is something that the SPLC seems to have significant experience at. How do they pick the ones that are not mentioned?

    I wonder.

     

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 9 Comments »

    Robot of the Week

    Posted by David Foster on December 12th, 2019 (All posts by )

    Machine made out of Legos sorts Legos.

    There are apparently 3000 different types of Lego components.

     

    Posted in Tech | Comments Off on Robot of the Week

    Interesting

    Posted by David Foster on December 10th, 2019 (All posts by )

    An artist named Jayne Riew observed that “In the days after the election, people around me struggled to make sense of what had happened. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the female vote. Among women who cast ballots, 42% were with him, not with her. Most of the women and mothers I knew were shocked or angry that other women and mothers could choose Trump over Clinton.”  The common assumption was that Trump voters must be “people who haven’t seen the world,” “resentful of our success,” “unskilled and no-tech,” “old and behind the times,” “white people who are afraid,” etc etc.

    She notes that “to reach 42%, Trump had to have drawn in women who didn’t fit the stereotype,”  and set out to do some actual research.  The resulting website, She’s With Him, is a photo essay based on interviews with 7 female Trump voters.  Worth taking a look.

    Riew’s own website is here.

     

    Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Elections, Politics, Trump, USA | 19 Comments »

    Kamala Down and other December Follies

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on December 9th, 2019 (All posts by )

    The potential slate of Democrat Party nominees for next years’ presidential election is down by one, as of last week with Kamala Harris withdrawing from consideration. I thought she would hold out a bit longer, appearing to be electorally ballot-proof, as a woman of (at a long squint) color, privileged (not to say exotic) upbringing, and reliably progressive inclinations, plus the establishment national media were already giving her the ‘buffed lightly with a flannel cloth as she is a luminous pearl’ treatment that had been previously administered to Barak Obama. Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Conservatism, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Leftism, Obama, Politics | 24 Comments »

    Business Stories

    Posted by David Foster on December 8th, 2019 (All posts by )

    We’ve talked before here about the point that most fiction seems to be about people who are lawyers, policemen, criminals, soldiers, spies, students, politicians, and noble but struggling writers. But there are indeed some works of fiction, and some vivid personal memoirs, in which business plays a central role without being portrayed simplistically or as stereotypically evil. Here are some that I like…please add your own favorites in the comments.  (I posted this at Ricochet, in slightly different form, about a week ago)

    The Current War, a recent movie about the late-1800s power struggle to determine which technology…AC or DC…will dominate America’s electrical distribution system. Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla are the key characters, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, and Nicholas Hoult respectively. My review is here.

    The Big Short, a 2015 film about the 2007-2008 financial crisis, based on Michael Lewis’s book. A hedge fund manager concludes that the subprime-loan market is not sustainable, and makes a billion-dollar bet against the relevant mortgage-backed securities. Based on real events. I thought it was very well done.

    God is an Englishman, R F Delderfield. Following his return to England from the Crimean War, Adam Swann identifies a business opportunity: although railroads are being built throughout the country, there will always be sources and destinations of freight which are not on the tracks. Hence, the potential for a nationwide gap-filling road haulage business based on the systematic use of horse-drawn wagons. (This is the first book of a three-book series called the Swann Family Saga.)  Reviewed here.

    Oil for the Lamps of China, Alice Tisdale Hobart. This 1933 novel is about a young American working as a sales rep in China, focused on selling oil for his employer (unnamed, but clearly based on Standard Oil) and increasing volumes by promoting the kerosene lamp as a better alternative to traditional lighting methods. The book was the basis for a 1935 movie of the same name…the film has its moments, but overall is not worthy of the book.

    Father, Son, and Company, by Thomas Watson Jr. This is the best business autobiography I’ve read. It’s about Watson Jr (the long-time CEO of IBM), his difficult relationship with his father, the company they built, and the emergence of the computing industry. It is an emotional, reflective, and self-critical book, without the kind of “here’s how brilliant I was” tone that afflicts too many executive autobiographies. I reviewed it here.

    A Man in Full, by Tom Wolfe. The central character of this 1988 novel is Charlie Croker, an Atlanta real-estate developer who has gotten himself into way too much debt. Other characters include Charlie’s current and former wives, the Black mayor of Atlanta, the bankers who must deal with the debt problem, and a warehouse worker at one of the Croker enterprises. The book also casts a not-very-complimentary light on the Atlanta society/arts scene.

    Trial by Fire, Stephen Buck. The adventures of a Honeywell field engineer in the early days of process-control computing. The book’s title reflects the point that the industrial processes being controlled frequently involved combustion, sometimes in scary circumstances. Much of the author’s work took place outside the US, in countries ranging from Poland to Brazil.

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Aviation, Biography, Book Notes, Britain, Business, Economics & Finance, Film, Tech, Transportation, War and Peace | 8 Comments »

    The Forgotten and Buried Intelligence Lessons of Pearl Harbor, December 7th 1941

    Posted by Trent Telenko on December 7th, 2019 (All posts by )

    December 7th 2019 is the 78th anniversary of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s surprise Pearl Harbor attack on the capitol ship battle line of the US Pacific Fleet.  After that attack there was a round of American elite political and military leaders a collective swearing of “Never Again.”  That is, “Never again will the USA be so surprised by a foreign enemy.”

    Pearl Harbor Through Japanese bomb sights

    This is what Pearl Harbor looked like through Imperial Japanese Naval Air Force (IJNAF) bomb sights on December 7th 1941.

    Yet despite that, America has indeed been “surprised” in exactly the way of Pearl Harbor repeatedly since 1941.  The Korean war is one example five years after WW2 ended.  The Soviet Invasions of both Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan in 1968 and 1979 are two others   It was certainly an intelligence surprise on 9/11/2001 with the attacks on the World Trade Center in NY City and the Pentagon in Washington D.C.,  and the “surprise” of there being few/no Weapons of Mass destruction in post 2003 Iraq, and Iran’s recent drone and cruise missile attack on Saudi Arabian oil refining facilities.

    The reason for this pattern of failure boils down to the forgotten and unlearned  — frankly impossible for American elites to learn —  intelligence lessons of Pearl Harbor.  Those unlearned lessons being that the interlocking  patron-client political relations inside the American federal civil government, military and intelligence organizations lead to narrow self-interested group think over the concerns of outside reality.  And that this tendency towards self-interested group think is at its absolute worse when facing a foreign enemy with a police state internal security system that is running a campaign of strategic deception and denial.

    If that “worst case” foreign enemy sounds a lot like Imperial Japan, the People’s Republic of North Korea, China, the Soviet Union, Iraq and Iran. It means you have paid attention to both American history since Pearl Harbor and to current events.

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Big Government, Current Events, History, International Affairs, Japan, Korea, Military Affairs, Miscellaneous, National Security, USA, War and Peace | 52 Comments »

    What Future for the Global Auto Industry?

    Posted by David Foster on December 7th, 2019 (All posts by )

    **An upcoming Chicago Boyz group discussion**

    There is much media and analyst discussion lately concerning possible sea changes in the auto industry..which would, of course, likely have major impacts throughout the economy and on society as a whole.  Some of the driving factors worth considering include:

    –The government incentives put in place in many countries…in some cases not just incentives but absolute requirements…in favor of electric cars

    –The emergence and growth of ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft

    –The development of partial ‘autopilot’ functions for cars, and the anticipated development of full automatic driving at some future point

    –The apparent reduction of interest among young adults and older children in driving and automobile ownership

    –Technological factors, including the continued improvements in battery energy storage capacity–but still very limited in comparison to liquid fuels…the continued incremental improvements in internal-combustion engines…and the emergence of new manufacturing technologies, including 3-D printing aka ‘additive manufacturing’.

    I’d like to have a group discussion of the possible future direction and shape of the industry…let’s do this sometime next week.  If you’re interested in participating, here are some links that are worthwhile thought-starters.

    Vitaliy Katsenslson is a fund manager; his blog is Contrarian Edge–I generally like the way he thinks.  Concerning electric cars in general and Tesla in particular, he says:

    You don’t really know the company until you buy the stock. It has happened to mea few times. We did hundreds of hours of research, bought a stock, and that act of buying activated new senses. I started seeing new angles. Something similar happened to me with Tesla, except I didn’t buy the stock, I bought a car.

    His ownership experience, and the thoughts triggered by the “activated new senses”, are captured in an 11-part series of posts.  You can get it emailed to you by signing up here.

    https://contrarianedge.com/signup-for-tesla-article/

    Concerning self-driving cars, here are three articles reflecting various degrees of enthusiasm versus caution:  from Forbes, from Investor’s Business Daily, and from Road/Show.  Also this Financial Times article, which is about the difficulties involved in the interaction of automated systems with humans in other cars or with human pedestrians.

    An interesting general discussion of AI misinformation and hype…not primarily focused on driverless cars although it does touch on that subject.

    Concerning battery technology, here’s a link on the trends in $/kWh and the future possibilities.  See also my 2017 post on battery materials constraints.

    Homework:  Please take a look at the above articles, at least the ones that aren’t behind paywalls..  I’ll put up a post as a place for discussion sometime next week.

     

    Posted in Business, Energy & Power Generation, Tech, Transportation | 20 Comments »

    Archive Post: The Camilla-Collector’s Garden

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on December 5th, 2019 (All posts by )

    (To scattered and distracted this week to come up with cutting commentary on the current political developments; what with decorating the house for Christmas, prepping for the next three market events, and working on the next Luna City installment, and the Civil War novel – so herewith, another post from out of the past – this one again from 2004.)

    In an upscale neighborhood halfway between Redwood House, and Granny Jessie and Grandpa Jim’s tiny white house on South Lotus, there was a magical place tucked into a dell of huge native California live oak trees. Looking back, we— my brother JP, my sister Pippy and I— seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time there, in those lovely leisurely days when mothers were expected to stay at home with children, but not to spend every waking minute ferrying them frenetically from scheduled amusements, playdates and lessons, with barely time for a snatched meal from drive-through or take-out. Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Diversions, History, Personal Narrative | 1 Comment »

    Paranoia

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on December 4th, 2019 (All posts by )

    One of our patients who has been paranoid for many years at a low level even when well, and severely so when his medications go out of whack picked up a copy of 1984 at the library, having heard that reasonably-educated people should read it and be familiar with it. He is an intelligent but rather isolated person. We asked him what he thought after.

    “It was a sad story.  The guy had a girlfriend, but he lost her.”

    The entire paranoid point of the story seems to have been mere unimportant background to him, which I suppose makes some sense.

     

    Posted in Human Behavior | 5 Comments »

    Recommended Reading – The End of the Anti-Library

    Posted by Dan from Madison on December 4th, 2019 (All posts by )

    For as long as I can remember I have had a pretty decently sized anti-library. Probably not as massive as some who read here, but still enough to be a pain in the butt when moving. I decided a year or two ago not to buy any books until I read what I had. This worked in principle, however relatives piled on with gifts of books, so I had to issue an edict that they please not buy me any more books as well.

    When I finish reading books (yes, real books, the kindle and other electronic formats don’t work well with me) I send them to Carl for his perusal and subsequent disposal in one way or another into the Portland, Oregon ecosystem. He returns the favor, so we are carbon neutral, at least in that aspect.

    I have two left to read, and my anti-library will be no more. I plan on reading those on an upcoming beach vacation. They are:

    Stephan Zweig – Beware of Pity – the only novel he wrote, and I am looking forward to is as I don’t read a lot of fiction.

    The Wars of the Roosevelts – The Ruthless Rise of America’s Greatest Political Family – this was a gift as it isn’t my typical wheelhouse for history, but I should learn some interesting stuff.

    Here is what I read this year, with a short description of each:
    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Book Notes, History | 16 Comments »

    Retrotech: Email and Text Messaging, 1932-Style

    Posted by David Foster on November 30th, 2019 (All posts by )

    From here.

    This is the service that would be known as TWX…apparently, the name had not yet been assigned when this ad came out.

     

    Posted in Advertising, Tech, USA | 8 Comments »

    A Memoir of Thanksgiving

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on November 27th, 2019 (All posts by )

    (I ran this early piece of mine about our family Thanksgiving traditions to earth in the text of my first book, intending to post it for today.)

    The menu was unvaryingly traditional, no matter if the table was laid out in the screened porch at Granny Jessie’s, or set up in Granny Dodie’s dining room and living room. Both of our grandmothers followed pretty much the same recipes for the turkey and bread stuffing, the giblet gravy and mashed potatoes with plenty of milk and butter whipped in. Both of them preferred opening a can of jellied cranberry sauce and letting it schlorp out onto a cut-glass plate, the ripples from the can unashamedly displayed to the world; at Christmas, Mom went as far as making cranberry sauce from a bag of sour fresh cranberries boiled together with sugar, but as far as the grandmothers were concerned, there was a reason that God had invented canned cranberry sauce technology.
    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Personal Narrative | 15 Comments »

    The Collapse of Atomic Diplomacy…Again?

    Posted by Trent Telenko on November 26th, 2019 (All posts by )

    The end of the Pacific War historiography of “Atomic Diplomacy” seems destined for a second round of debunking, after the 1980’s declassification of WW2 Ultra files, with what looks like a “Jon Parchell talking to Japanese scholars about Commander Mitsuo Fuchida’s version of Midway” moment. [1]

    That is, an accepted American Pacific War historiography is about to be ‘up ended’ by Japanese language scholarship little/unknown in English language for years after its appearance. In this particular case, the ‘scholarship’ is a 2011 NHK documentary titled as follows:

     “Atomic bombing – top secret information that was never utilized”

    原爆投下 活(い)かされなかった極秘情報

    Original link:

    http://www.nhk.or.jp/special/onair/110806.html

    Currently accessible link:

    https://www.dailymotion.com/video/xkev97

    Atomic Bomb Pit #2 - B-29 BocksCar Loading Site

    Atomic Bomb Pit #2 – B-29 BocksCar’s Loading Site on Tinian.  This was the plane that killed Nagasaki.  Japanese intelligence tracked it, but Japanese military leaders could not bring themselves to stop it.

    The NHK documentary answers questions that “Atomic Diplomacy” has never bothered to ask.  Specifically “What did the Imperial Japanese Military & Government know about the American nuclear weapon program, when did it know it, and what did it do about it.”

    NHK’s documentary lays out the following:

    1. The Japanese military knew of the Manhattan project in 1943 and started its own nuclear weapons programs (IJA & IJN) as a result.[2]
    2. The Imperial Japanese Military gave up these nuclear programs in June 1945. [3]
    3. The Imperial Japanese Military & Foreign Ministry were informed of the American Atomic test on July 16, 1945 and refused to believe it was a nuclear detonation.
    4. The code breakers of the Imperial Japanese Army had been tracking the combat operations of the 509th Composite Group including both A-bomb drops.[4] The Imperial General Staff was told of the special message to Washington DC for the Hiroshima attack, sat on the information, and warned no one.
    5. The Imperial General Staff repeated this non-communication performance for the 2nd nuclear attack on Nagasaki.

    Not having Japanese language skills myself, I had a link to a 2013 English language translations of the documentary sent to me by an acquaintance.

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in History, Military Affairs, Miscellaneous, National Security, USA, War and Peace | 11 Comments »

    Sunday at the Civil War

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on November 25th, 2019 (All posts by )

    Last weekend, at the folklore event at the Museum of Texas Handmade Furniture, I was talking to one of the other participants – yes, there were a good few 19th-century reenactors there, all in costume – and mentioned that I wanted to get some good pictures of Civil War reenactors; some images that might be worked into creating the cover for the next book. I had been thinking of a combat scene, with an artistic effect to make it look rather like one of those Currier and Ives Civil War battle prints … only without the need of paying a bomb for the rights. The reenactor – who was performing as a snake-oil medicine show entrepreneur, looked at me and recommended the Civil War weekend at the Liendo Plantation – a blip on the map of eastern Texas some forty miles short of Houston. It was, he said, one of the biggest and best-attended Civil War reenactor events in Texas, with artillery and cavalry and all, on the grounds of a lovely and historic old plantation house … and it would be the very next weekend. A weekend where we had nothing really planned. I went home, looked it up, plotted out the drive … and said; let’s do it.
    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Americas, Diversions, History, Military Affairs, Texas, War and Peace | 4 Comments »

    Diseconomies and Dysfunctions of Scale

    Posted by David Foster on November 24th, 2019 (All posts by )

    Why are short-line railroads able to survive, and sometimes thrive, in an industry dominated by a few giant companies?  An article at Railway Age suggests some answers. These points are relevant, I believe, in other industries as well.  To excerpt summarize the points in the article:

    –Short lines are formed with a much lower manpower cost structure that includes more-flexible work rules.

    Short lines are very effective at negotiating service and shared capital project business deals with their face-to-face local customers. That was always a hurdle when the corporate headquarters of a railroad like Conrail was hundreds of miles away in Philadelphia compared to sites like Cairo, Ill., or Kewaunee, Wisc. 

    –Short lines are focused directly upon industrial development along their limited geography service tracks. They are not distracted by competitive locations that want their location to be the next job creation site.

    –Short lines have a simple way to calculate customer profitability as a guide for managing their service responsiveness.

    –There is an ease of doing business with short lines. The difficulty of transacting business has long been an internally acknowledged Class I issue. Local small railroads have successfully addressed this with local managers dealing one-on-one with local customers.

    –The short line railroads have worked to grab growth opportunities. They developed local community and state railroad DOT programs that gave them access to development and rehabilitation capital.

    Most of these advantages could, in principal, be achieved by the large railroads through improved organization design and better internal measurements/incentives. And similarly in other industries…but it rarely seems to actually work out that way.  Re the profitability-measurements point, the article notes that Class I’s have tried for decades to calculate and then share with their remote train crews information about branch line financials. The Class I’s even tried to create regional cluster profit centers that would better focus attention on local branch line customers and new business development.  The results were at best a mixed success.

    and hence

    Selling off or otherwise leasing “troubled lines” to a smaller company typically became the favored big railroad divestiture business process.

    Any thoughts on similar factors at work in other industries?

     

    Posted in Business, Management, Transportation | 17 Comments »

    The Inclusive Symbolism Crowds Out the Intellectual Substance.

    Posted by Stephen Karlson on November 23rd, 2019 (All posts by )

    Good afternoon, dear reader. Jonathan Gewirtz and David Foster have invited me to participate in Chicago Boyz. I’m going to limit my presence here to occasional mini-dissertations on education, political economy, or transportation.

    My first post is a cross-post from my primary web journal, Cold Spring Shops.

    Inside Higher Ed’s Elin Johnson shares the bad news.  “Percentage of students who have met English and math benchmarks lowest in 15 years.”  The proximate cause appears to be a lack of preparation.

    Almost 1.8 million students, or 52 percent of the 2019 graduating class, took the ACT.

    Of the Class of 2019 who took the test, 37 percent met three of the four College Readiness Benchmarks, and 36 percent did not meet any. The latter number has grown over the past few years, reports ACT. Students who took the recommended high school core curriculum stayed steady in their readiness in English and math.

    “As we’ve been pointing out for many years, taking the right courses in high school dramatically increases a student’s likelihood to be ready for success when they graduate,” said Marten Roorda, ACT CEO, in a press release. “Students who don’t take challenging courses — particularly those from underserved populations — may lack the self-confidence and ambition to do so, and social and emotional learning instruction can help them improve in those areas.”

    I’d like to think that, oh, inculcating bourgeois habits and teaching the substance would work, but that’s not how the people whose salaries depend on them not seeing it respond. Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Academia, Education, Society | 57 Comments »

    The Seemingly Unending Schiff Show

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on November 20th, 2019 (All posts by )

    I was going through my routine at Planet Fitness this morning, as is our habit – three times weekly, usually around 8 of the clock; half-past at latest, for an hour on the elliptical and the stair-step with a cool-down on the recumbent. There is a bank of television screens across the middle of the gym, offering all the alphabet networks, plus CNN, Univision, the Planet Fitness channel, and something that has Friends and Seinfeld on rotation during the time that I am not watching any of them. (I have perfected the art of reading my Kindle while stepping and pedaling; after all, being able to read makes the whole exercise thing bearable.)

    All the news feeds – four or five of the screens had the same damn unending Schiff show; which is to say that interminable search for solid grounds upon which to impeach a sitting and duly elected president of the USA. Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Big Government, Blogging, Conservatism, Crony Capitalism, Europe, Internet, Leftism, Media, Politics, Terrorism, The Press, Trump | 26 Comments »

    Regular and Irregular Channels

    Posted by David Foster on November 18th, 2019 (All posts by )

    Some of the witnesses at the ongoing Congressional hearings seem quite disturbed at the use of “irregular channels” for decision-making and implementation, supplementing and bypassing the “regular” channels. (here, for example) Reminds me of a Churchill story…

    In February 1940, Churchill was not yet Prime Minister but rather was First Lord of the Admiralty. He received a letter from a father disappointed that his son had been turned down for a commission, despite his qualifications and his record. Churchill suspected class prejudice and wrote to the Second Sea Lord, saying that “Unless some better reasons are given to me, I shall have to ask my Naval Secretary to interview the boy on my behalf.”

    The Second Sea Lord, unhappy with the meddling from above, responded to the effect that it was inappropriate to question the decisions of “a board duly constituted.” To which Churchill replied:

    I do not at all mind “going behind the opinion of a board duly constituted” or even changing the board or its chairman if I think injustice has been done. How long is it since this board was re-modeled?… Who are the naval representatives on the board of selection? Naval officers should be well-represented. Action accordingly. Let me have a list of the whole board with the full record of each member and his date of appointment.

    General Louis Spears was present when Churchill, after taking the above hard-line, saw the candidates. After chatting with the boys, Churchill explained the matter to Spears:

    “They have been turned down for the very reason that should have gained them admission. They are mad keen on the Navy, they have it in their blood, they will make splendid officers. What could be better than that they should rise higher than their fathers did? It is in their fathers’ homes that they grew to love the Navy, yet they have been turned down because their fathers came from the lower deck,” and he pouted and glared with fury.

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Britain, Current Events, History, Management, Miscellaneous, Organizational Analysis, Politics, Trump | 16 Comments »

    Random Pic

    Posted by Jonathan on November 18th, 2019 (All posts by )

    doppelganger

     

    Posted in Photos | 3 Comments »

    Suburban Sophistication

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on November 17th, 2019 (All posts by )

    (Another of my long-ago archive posts, from 2005 – the California that once was, and that I remember when I think of growing up there.)

    When JP and Pip and Sander and I were all growing up, the contiguous suburb of Sunland and Tujunga, untouched by the 210 Freeway was a terribly blue-collar, gloriously low-rent sort of rural suburb. It was if anything, an extension of the San Fernando Valley, and not the wealthier part of it either. It was particularly unscathed by any sort of higher cultural offerings, and the main drag of Foothill Boulevard was attended on either side by a straggle of small storefront businesses, a drive-in theater, a discouraged local grocery store, a used car lot, the usual fast food burger or pizza places, a place with an enormous concrete chicken in front which advertised something called “broast” chicken, Laundromats, and a great variety of very drab little bars. There were no bookstores, unless you counted the little Christian bookstore across from the library and fire station.
    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Business, Culture, Deep Thoughts, Miscellaneous, Personal Narrative, Reruns | 9 Comments »

    Robot Gets Hired, Tries Hard, But Can’t Do the Job

    Posted by David Foster on November 16th, 2019 (All posts by )

    At Boeing.

    Those fearing imminent mass unemployment driven by robots and AI should be following stories like this.  They also should be looking at the actual productivity numbers.

    See also the details of work and the realities of automation.

     

    Posted in Aviation, Business, Economics & Finance, Tech | 21 Comments »