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    Posted by David Foster on October 20th, 2019 (All posts by )

    Financial Times recently had an article about a projected luxury dirigible.  Being an airship fan, I wish the venture success. I was struck, though, by a paragraph in the article contrasting the planned aircraft, called the Airlander, with the airships of the 1930s with their “flammable hydrogen fuels.”

    Uh…no.  None of the airships of the 1930s used hydrogen as a fuel.  Some of them used hydrogen as a lifting gas, which is a totally different thing from the fuel consumed to power the craft forward. And most American airships didn’t use hydrogen for any purpose…the American airships that came to bad ends mostly did so as a result of weather-related structural failure…which point, one would have thought, might have been relevant to someone writing about the possible future of airships.

    But airships are a pretty esoteric subject, after all, so maybe it’s unreasonable to expect a journalist to spend (or get his assistant to spend) half an hour actually learning something about whatever he is writing about.  So let’s talk about something that isn’t esoteric at all, but rather about as timely and important as it gets.  Energy.

    I’ve noticed that in articles about energy storage…of which there have been a lot…the writer rarely seems to grasp that kilowatts are not the same thing as kilowatt-hours, and you can’t express the storage capacity of a battery or other storage system in kilowatts. It would be like stating the capacity of your car’s gas tank in horsepower.  (The same principle applies to megawatts and megawatt-hours, or gigawatts and gigawatt-hours)  Yet all the time, I see articles…not just in the general media but also in the business media…talking about the wonderfulness of a battery or whatever that can store 4 megawatts.

    For example, here’s a Barrons article referring to a town which has installed batteries “that can hold two megawatts of power.”  Actually, the batteries at this facility can hold 3.9 megawatt-hours of energy…the 2 megawatts of power is about the rate at which energy can be added to or drawn from the system, and has nothing to say about the amount stored.  So if you withdraw power at 2 megawatts, you can do so for a little under 2 hours before the battery storage is exhausted. You need the megawatt-hour number to know that; “2 megawatts” tells you nothing about the storage capacity.

    Turning now to television journalism:  I think Tucker Carlson is far superior to most TV commentators in terms of focusing on issues in some depth, rather than just obsessively circling in on whatever is hottest at the moment.  But when recently introducing a guest who was going to talk about a highly-questionable sale to China that was made during the Clinton administration, he said that sale had been of “machine parts.”  Actually, it was of machine tools, as the guest correctly explained.

    Machine tools are one of the essential cornerstones of industry, and have been for a long time.  Shouldn’t a person who frequently writes and/or speaks about economic issues know what a machine tool is and why it matters?  Maybe I’m misinterpreting, but I think Tucker’s “machine parts” phrasing indicates that he has no such awareness.

    Ben Rhodes, an Obama operative, said of the current generation of reporters:  “The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”

    No doubt true of a large number of those younger reporters who Rhodes manipulated while feeling contempt for. But there are journalists–older and younger–who do have a pretty good grasp of history, geography, and comparative political systems…some of them even have some education or reading in political philosophy.  But even among these, knowledge of technology–and by “technology” I do not mean just “computer stuff”–is pretty close to nonexistent.

    And with the vastly increased influence of government over all aspects of the economy–and the even greater (much greater!) influence being sought by the current Democratic Party–such knowledge is pretty important.

     

    Posted in Aviation, Education, Energy & Power Generation, Media, Tech, Transportation | 26 Comments »

    Hobbits In Kentucky

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on October 19th, 2019 (All posts by )

    I am reprising my top 100 most-visited posts over at Assistant Village Idiot, and this was number #22.
    From the early days of the blog, December 2007, and reprinted twice here, just because I love it.

    ****

    Not a joke or a misprint. Bumbling around doing research for a Beowulf post, I happened across an essay by Guy Davenport, literature prof in KY who studied under Tolkien at Merton College, Oxford. Back in the US, he became friends with Alan Barnett, who he later learned had been an earlier student at Oxford with Tolkien. Barnett related how fascinated JRRT had been to hear about the country folk of Kentucky, growing tobacco and having such English country names as Burrowes, Barefoot, Proudfoot, and Baggins. Two versions of the same story, each with information the other lacks, are here (scroll down) and here. Barnett, BTW, had not heard that his friend Tolkien had later become a novelist and knew nothing of The Lord Of The Rings, which is rather humorous.

    Davenport wrote a NYT piece on it in 1979, but the Times archive only goes back to 1981. (2019 Update: A reader has unearthed the Davenport article.)

    Commentary. The rural West Midlands area that Tolkien patterned the Shire after had become more urban by the time of Tolkien’s writing, and the idea of something even remotely like it being preserved in America might well have charmed him. To a European classicist, rural America had much the same remoteness that Professor T was trying to capture about the Shire. Americans would immediately associate Kentucky with Appalachia, which was settled by rambunctious Scots-Irish and English Borderers, and discount the idea of any connection. But Tolkien may not have had that association, and in this case it is not accurate anyway. That section of KY between Frankfort and Louisville was actually settled by a higher percentage of West Midlanders, more like Ohio was.

    I looked up all those Hobbit-names, comparing that part of KY with the rest of KY, and with other places across the US. There weren’t any Bagginses,* Gamgees, or Bracegirdles, but there were Tookes, Grubbs, Barefoots and Proudfoots, Burrowes, and Pippins. There were no Butterburs, but there were Butterbaughs. BOOderbaw my second son pronounced immediately after I’d told him. “We had a Butterbaugh in my class” (at Asbury College in Kentucky, 2005). There was indeed a greater concentration of all these names around Shelbyville and Louisville. These names occurred elsewhere in the country, but were much less common – only a few in huge California, New York, and Texas, for example.

    The attempts to show a similar speech pattern I find less convincing. Rural archaic constructions all sound very similar at first go until you take them apart. That archaic constructions persisted at all, however, would have been known to Tolkien but still likely to intrigue him.

    One commenter on a Tolkien site suggested that examining the census records for 1910 – 1930 for that area might be more revealing than a current phone listing. Likely true, but I’m not likely to do it myself.

    Update 2009: There is a Cooter Baggins who graduated from a HS in Indiana, right across the river from that part of KY. Hmm.

    *There is a Bilbo Baggins in Louisville, but I assumed that was a taken name, not a christened name.

     

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 3 Comments »

    All He Cares About Is Love

    Posted by Jonathan on October 17th, 2019 (All posts by )

     

    Posted in Human Behavior, Video | 4 Comments »

    Chinese Chequers and Other Spectator Games

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

    The irony of very well-recompensed nominally-American basketball players of color reacting with wild indignation to American criticism of China with regard to heavy-handed treatment of citizens of Tibet and residents of Hong Kong is of a density so thick and heavy that it threatens to drop through the core of the earth and come out the other side. This of course, after months of rather public displays by professional athletes of color making a big thing of knee-taking and demonstrations of disapproval during the playing of the American national anthem at the start of various games. This cheap display of woke-virtue sporting world division may already have sunk the National Football League, in the minds and hearts of those fans of football in Flyoverlandia-America. I suppose now we can look forward to seeing the same fatal holed-below-the-waterline-and-sinking-fast pattern in the round-bouncy-ball franchise; honestly, it’s as if the NBA is basically saying, “Hold my beer and watch this!” Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Business, China, Current Events, Customer Service, Film, Media | 16 Comments »

    What, Exactly, Is CNN?

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

    …and what are NBC and ABC?

    When referencing these networks…for example, when talking about CNN’s increasingly-extreme political bias, ABC’s running of a video supposedly from Syria which was actually from Kentucky, or the reports about widespread abuse of women at  NBC, people tend to simply refer to them as “CNN”, “ABC”, or “NBC”, as if they were independent entities.  But they’re not.

    CNN is owned by AT&T.  NBC is owned by Comcast, and ABC is owned by Disney.

    The history is that CNN was part of Turner Broadcasting, which merged with Time-Warner in 1996.  Following a whole host of acquisition and divestiture transactions (which included a very expensive experience with AOL), Warner Media was acquired by AT&T in 2018.  NBC was acquired by GE in 1986 as part of its reacquisition of RCA; the networks was put into a joint venture with Comcast in 2009, and the GE share of the venture was bought out by Comcast in 2013. Disney acquired ABC in 1996 as part of its acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC Inc.

    Given how these entities have been shuffled around, it may be understandable that people refer to them simply by the names of the networks; still, I think the proper way to refer to CNN would be “CNN, a subsidiary of telecommunications giant AT&T” and similarly for the others.

     

    Posted in Business, Media, Miscellaneous, Tech | 15 Comments »

    The Strong Horse

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on October 15th, 2019 (All posts by )

    Osama bin Laden said that people will follow the strong horse.  He wasn’t wrong. That phrase came to my mind today reading the RealClearInvestigations piece Why China’s Brightest Abroad Show Team Spirit For Beijing’s Hardball. The American fantasy is that people in oppressed nations want more than anything to be free, or at least be freer. Though this is partly true, it ebbs and flows and is sometimes much less true than we expect.  It is true that in measuring public sentiment under dictators all data is suspect. People are afraid to be the first to stop clapping for Stalin.* In the current case of China, those that have received approval to study abroad are from the class of people benefiting most under the current regime, and are additionally vetted to boot. They are among the most likely to support the regime to begin with; then additional carrots and sticks are applied.

    Nonetheless, I think that Richard Bernstein is reading the available data correctly, and that China is not populated entirely by huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Beginning about a third of the way down, he illustrates that many of the students are proud of China’s power and growth, that it is expanding. There is no mention of them being proud of its government’s actions, but the sense is that they just don’t think about that much.

    “The conviction in China is that we’re on the right track,” Wang added. “The vibe is that the system we have is better than the West’s.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 53 Comments »

    Puritans – A Reminder

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on October 15th, 2019 (All posts by )

    Just to review, the Puritans were not obsessed with sex.  It is closer to the mark to say that moderns are obsessed with sex and therefore disapproving of anyone who has got any rules about it. The Puritans were in fact among (A commenter points out that Aquinas was on the scene for that earlier) the leaders in Western Christian thought that sex was not only for having children – which virtually every culture in the world has stressed. (Except for rich and powerful people, especially men. They get to regard sex as entertainment and expression of power.) Puritans believed it was also “to knit the heart of a husband to wife,” a charming thought. One of the supposedly oppressive rules of the Puritans was that men should not get away with taking advantage of women. They were strict.  They did not believe that a man and woman who were not husband and wife should be alone together, because they thought the temptation was likely to be too much for one or both of them. We threw that rule out, and guess what?  It turns out it has a good deal of truth to it.  Just because adultery does not occur in 100%  of such situations, or even 30% does not mean it doesn’t happen more than is good for both individuals and society as a whole.

    Hawthorne had his own hatreds – we needn’t share them.

    Puritans were obsessed with death, with the final moment when whether they belonged to the elect or not would be revealed.  They were both horrified and fascinated by death. They were obsessed with time, with “improving the time” and not wasting it. They were not Docetists, falling into the oft-recurring heresy that material things were evil and spiritual ones were pure. Many Christian groups have leaned this way over the centuries, and the Puritans had some of that, but they did not foreswear the flesh, they merely believed it should be held under short rein.  They drank beer and enjoyed it.  They had folk dances, but not dances with pairs of men and women. They had sports and recreations, though they believed these should be limited.

    (Screwtape:) In modern Christian writings, though I see much (indeed more than I like) about Mammon, I see few of the old warnings about Worldly Vanities, the Choice of Friends, and the Value of Time. All that, your patient would probably classify as ‘Puritanism’—and may I remark in passing that the value we have given to that word is one of the really solid triumphs of the last hundred years? By it we rescue annually thousands of humans from temperance, chastity, and sobriety of life. CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (#10)

    Stop blaming the Puritans.

     

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 4 Comments »

    Occupation – A French Village

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on October 12th, 2019 (All posts by )

    On the strong recommendation of David Foster, the Daughter-Unit and I began to watch: A French Village, that seven-season long miniseries which follows five years of German occupation and a bit of the aftermath as it affects the lives of a handful of characters in a small town in eastern France close to the Swiss border – from the day that the German invaders arrive, to the aftermath of the occupation, in a fractured peace, when all was said and done. (It’s available through Amazon Prime.) A good few of the occupants of that village did not really welcome liberation and had damn good reasons – guilty consciences, mostly, for having collaborated with the Germans with varying degrees of enthusiasm. (A benefit is that this series stars actors of whom we have never heard, in French with English subtitles. Given how the establishment American entertainment media has gone all noisily woke, anti-Trump and abusive towards us conservative residents of Flyoverlandia, this is a darned good thing. Seriously, for years and years I used to only personally boycott Jane Fonda and Cat Stevens, now my list of ‘oh, hell NEVER! actors and personalities is well into the scores.)
    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Book Notes, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Diversions, Europe, France, Germany, History, Media | 28 Comments »

    “The Katakombe Stood Upright”

    Posted by David Foster on October 11th, 2019 (All posts by )

    …as did South Park

    In 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor, Sebastian Haffner was working as a junior lawyer (refendar) in the Prussian High Court, the Kammergericht. He was comforted by the continuity of the legal process:

    The newspapers might report that the constitution was in ruins. Here every paragraph of the Civil Code was still valid and was mulled over and analyzed as carefully as ever…The Chancellor could daily utter the vilest abuse against the Jews; there was nonetheless still a Jewish Kammergerichtsrat (high court judge) and member of our senate who continued to give his astute and careful judgments, and these judgments had the full weight of the law and could set the entire apparatus of the state in motion for their enforcement–even if the highest office-holder of that state daily called their author a ‘parasite’, a ‘subhuman’ or a ‘plague’.

    But on March 31st, the Nazis came to the Kammergericht. Haffner was in the library, reading some document on which he had to give an opinion. There was a clatter of footsteps in the corridor, shouts, and doors banging. Brown uniforms surged in, and the leader announced that all “non-Aryans” must leave immediately. One brown shirt approached Haffner and asked “Are you Aryan?”

    Before I had a chance to think, I had said, ‘Yes.’ He took a close look at my nose–and retired. The blood shot to my face. A moment too late I felt the shame, the defeat….I had failed my very first test.

    As I left the Kammergericht it stood there, grey, cool and calm as ever, set back from the street in its distinguished setting. There was nothing to show that, as an institution, it had just collapsed.

    Haffner tells us that even during Germany’s previous eras of autocracy, there had been at least some tradition of judicial independence, represented by the Kammergericht. He relates the story of Frederick the Great and the miller of Potsdam: The king wanted a windmill removed because it interfered with the view from his palace, and offered to buy it. The miller refused, and the king threatened to dispossess him. Challenging this royal version of eminent domain, the miller said, “Just so, your majesty, but there’s still the Kammergericht in Berlin.” (When Haffner wrote, the mill was still there) All that was over, now.

    It was strange to sit in the Kammergericht again, the same courtroom, the same seats, acting as if nothing had happened. The same ushers stood at the doors and ensured, as ever, that the dignity of the court was not disturbed. Even the judges were for the most part the same people. Of course, the Jewish judge was no longer there. He had not even been dismissed. He was an old gentleman and had served under the Kaiser, so he had been moved to an administrative position at some Amtsgericht (lower court). His position on the senate was taken by an open-faced, blond young Amtsgerichtsrat, with glowing cheeks, who did not seem to belong among the grave Kammergerichtsrats…It was whispered that in private the newcomer was something high up in the SS.

    The new judge didn’t seem to know much about law, but asserted his points in a “fresh, confident voice.”

    We Refendars, who had just passed our exams, exchanged looks while he expounded. At last the president of the senate remarked with perfect politeness, ‘Colleague, could it be that you have overlooked paragraph 816 of the Civil Code?’ At which the new high court judge looked embarrassed…leafed through his copy of the code and then admitted lightly, ‘Oh, yes. Well, then it’s just the other way around.’ Those were the triumphs of the older law.

    There were, however, other cases–cases in which the newcomer did not back down…stating that here the paragraph of the law must yield precedence; he would instruct his co-judges that the meaning was more important than the letter of the law…Then, with the gesture of a romantic stage hero, he would insist on some untenable decision. It was piteous to observe the faces of the older Kammergerichtsrats as this went on. They looked at their notes with an expression of indescribable dejection, while their fingers nervously twisted a paper-clip or a piece of blotting paper. They were used to failing candidates for the Assessor examination for spouting the kind of nonsense that was now being presented as the pinnacle of wisdom; but now this nonsense was backed by the full power of the state, by the threat of dismissal for lack of national reliability, loss of livelihood, the concentration camp…They begged for a little understanding for the Civil Code and tried to save what they could.

    A few people dared to speak up against the regime, but not many…and they were not always the people that one would have predicted. On the evening of the day when Jews were evicted from the Kammergericht, Haffner went with his girlfriend to a nightclub called the Katacombe. The master of ceremonies was a comic actor and satirical cabaret performer named Werner Fink:

    His act remained full of harmless amiability in a country where these qualities were on the liquidation list. This harmless amiability hid a kernel of real, indomitable courage. He dared to speak openly about the reality of the Nazis, and that in the middle of Germany. His patter contained references to concentration camps, the raids on people’s homes, the general fear and general lies. He spoke of these things with infinitely quiet mockery, melancholy, and sadness. Listening to him was extraordinarily comforting.

    In the morning, the Prussian Kammergericht, with its tradition of hundreds of years, had ignobly capitulated before the Nazis. In the same evening, a small troop of artistes, with no tradition to back them up, demonstrated the courage to speak forbidden thoughts. “The Kammergericht had fallen but the Katakombe stood upright.”

    As, in 2019, did South Park.

     

    Posted in China, Germany, History, USA | 10 Comments »

    The Meritocracy Trap

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on October 9th, 2019 (All posts by )

    John Staddon, professor emeritus at Duke, reviews The Meritocracy Trap over at Quillette. It’s a good review, and if you want to get into a discussion about the book or the topic I recommend you read it, so you don’t talk yourself out on a limb.  But if you just want to know the gist of it, I can simplify: First, David Markovitz, author of The Meritocracy Trap, mostly means academic credentialing when he uses the term meritocracy. Most of us mean something else by the term.  Insofar as academic credentialing is a poor substitute for meritocracy, Markovitz is correct – it does screw the middle-class in order to give advantages to an elite class attempting to be hereditary.  We agree.  We just think you don’t know what a real meritocracy is, perhaps from being at Yale all these years. 

    Secondly, Markovitz thinks the standardised testing used to get children into colleges, especially elite colleges, can be gamed, and that rich people know how to do this. This is just not true. Instruction can improve scores, but remember the following number: Total SAT will go up 50-100 points from junior to senior year anyway, because of maturing brains being able to think more abstractly, see more analogies, and not get distracted by buzzwords and irrelevancies. Beyond that, instruction and supposedly gaming the system don’t add much. If you want I can go into that in more detail.

    Markovitz doesn’t believe in natural ability and thinks it’s all gaming the system.  He’s just wrong. Summary Over. Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 20 Comments »

    So, Really Want to Talk About Foreign Intervention? (updated)

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

    Much ink and many photons have been spent discussing Russia’s attempts to influence (or at least disrupt) the American 2016 Presidential campaign.  Meanwhile…

    Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets, sent out a tweet which said “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong.”  Tencent, the NBA’s exclusive digital partner in China, reacted by suspending business relations with the Rockets, and is offering fans who purchased a year-long pass to watch Rockets games the chance to switch it to a different team. A number of other Chinese companies have pulled sponsorship deals with the Rockets as well.  Morey issued an apology which said in part ” was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.”

    And from last year:  here’s an appalling story about how anger from the Chinese government led Marriott Corporation to fire an employee who had ‘liked’ a tweet which congratulated the company for listing Tibet as a country, along with Hong Kong and Taiwan….of course, the Chinese regime considers Tibet to be a part of China, not a separate country.

    China forced Marriott to suspend all online booking for a week at its nearly 300 Chinese hotels. A Chinese leader also demanded the company publicly apologize and “seriously deal with the people responsible,” the Journal reported.

    And boy, did Marriott ever apologize. Craig Smith, president of the hotel chain’s Asian division, told the China Daily that Marriott had committed two significant mistakes — presumably the survey listing Tibet and the liked tweet — that “appeared to undermine Marriott’s long-held respect for China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

    He announced an “eight-point rectification plan” that included education for hotel employees across the globe and stricter supervision.

    And the Marriott executive said this to China’s most-read English-language newspaper: “This is a huge mistake, probably one of the biggest in my career.”

    (More here…according to this article, the Chinese suppression of Marriott bookings was in response to the initial listing of Tibet as a country rather than to the tweet approving of this listing)

    The Chinese economy is, shall we say, a little more dynamic than that of Russia, so the government of China has much more ability to strong-arm American corporations (in general) than does the Putin regime.

    Turning now from the hotel industry to the movie industry, Richard Gere says that Chinese pressure due to his stand on Tibetan independence has led to his being dropped from big Hollywood movies.  Also:

    Gere’s activities have not just made Hollywood apparently reluctant to cast him in big films, he says they once resulted in him being banished from an independently financed, non-studio film which was not even intended for a Chinese release.

    “There was something I was going to do with a Chinese director, and two weeks before we were going to shoot, he called saying, ‘Sorry, I can’t do it,’” Gere recalled. “We had a secret phone call on a protected line. If I had worked with this director, he, his family would never have been allowed to leave the country ever again, and he would never work.”

    See also How China’s Censors Influence Hollywood.  Because the Chinese market is so large…(Fast and Furious 7 pulled in $388 million in China, more than it made in the US)…the influence of the Chinese regime on US film production and distribution has become immense.

    In recent years, foreign filmmakers have also gone out of their way not to provoke the Communist Party. For instance, the 2012 remake of the Cold War action movie, Red Dawn, originally featured Chinese soldiers invading an American town. After filming was complete, though, the moviemakers went back and turned the attacking army into North Koreans, which seemed a safer target, at least until last year’s hack of Sony Pictures.

    and

    Ying Zhu, a professor of media culture at the College of Staten Island at the City University of New York, worries China’s growing market power is giving the Communist Party too much leverage over Hollywood.

    “The Chinese censors can act as world film police on how China can be depicted, how China’s government can be depicted, in Hollywood films,” she says. “Therefore, films critical of the Chinese government will be absolutely taboo.”

    In the late 1990s, when China’s box office was still small, Hollywood did make movies that angered the Communist Party, such as Seven Years In Tibet, about the life of the Dalai Lama, and Red Corner, a Richard Gere thriller that criticized China’s legal system. Given the importance of the China market now, Zhu says those movies wouldn’t get financing today.

    Plus, Chinese companies have snapped up Hollywood studios, theaters and production companies.

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Academia, Business, China, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Environment, Film, Media, Science, Tech, USA | 28 Comments »

    Sputnik Anniversary Rerun–Book Review: Rockets and People

    Posted by David Foster on October 4th, 2019 (All posts by )

    Today being the 62nd  anniversary of the Sputnik launch, here’s a rerun of a post about a very interesting book.

    Rockets and People, by Boris E Chertok

    Boris Chertok’s career in the Soviet aerospace industry spanned many decades, encompassing both space exploration and military missile programs. His four-volume memoir is an unusual document–partly, it reads like a high school annual or inside company history edited by someone who wants to be sure no one feels left out and that all the events and tragedies and inside jokes are appropriately recorded. Partly, it is a technological history of rocket development, and partly, it is a study in the practicalities of managing large programs in environments of technical uncertainty and extreme time pressure. Readers should include those interested in: management theory and practice, Russian/Soviet history, life under totalitarianism, the Cold War period, and missile/space technology. Because of the great length of these memoirs, those who read the whole thing will probably be those who are interested in all (or at least most) of the above subject areas. I found the series quite readable; overly-detailed in many places, but always interesting. In his review American astronaut Thomas Stafford said “The Russians are great storytellers, and many of the tales about their space program are riveting. But Boris Chertok is one of the greatest storytellers of them all.”  In this series, Chertok really does suck you into his world.

    Chertok was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1912: his mother had been forced to flee Russia because of her revolutionary (Menshevik) sympathies. The family returned to Russia on the outbreak of the First World War, and some of Chertok’s earliest memories were of the streets filled with red-flag-waving demonstrators in 1917. He grew up on the Moscow River, in what was then a quasi-rural area, and had a pretty good childhood–“we, of course, played “Reds and Whites,” rather than “Cowboys and Indians””–swimming and rowing in the river and developing an early interest in radio and aviation–both an airfield and a wireless station were located nearby. He also enjoyed reading–“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn met with the greatest success, while Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin gave rise to aggressive moods–‘Hey–after the revolution in Europe, we’ll deal with the American slaveholders!” His cousin introduced him to science fiction, and he was especially fond of Aelita (book and silent film), featuring the eponymous Martian beauty.

    Chertok remembers his school years fondly–there were field trips to study art history and architectural styles, plus a military program with firing of both rifles and machine guns–but notes “We studied neither Russian nor world history….Instead we had two years of social science, during which we studied the history of Communist ideas…Our clever social sciences teacher conducted lessons so that, along with the history of the French Revolution and the Paris Commune, we became familiar with the history of the European peoples from Ancient Rome to World War I, and while studying the Decembrist movement and 1905 Revolution in detail we were forced to investigate the history of Russia.” Chertok purused his growing interest in electronics, developing a new radio-receiver circuit which earned him a journal publication and an inventor’s certificate. There was also time for skating and dating–“In those strict, puritanical times it was considered inappropriate for a young man of fourteen or fifteen to walk arm in arm with a young woman. But while skating, you could put your arm around a girl’s waist, whirl around with her on the ice to the point of utter exhaustion, and then accompany her home without the least fear of reproach.”

    Chertok wanted to attend university, but “entrance exams were not the only barrier to admission.” There was a quota system, based on social class, and  “according to the ‘social lineage’ chart, I was the son of a white collar worker and had virtually no hope of being accepted the first time around.” He applied anyhow, hoping that his journal publication and inventor’s certificate in electronics would get him in.” It didn’t–he was told, “Work about three years and come back. We’ll accept you as a worker, but not as the son of a white-collar worker.”

    So Chertok took a job as electrician in a brick factory…not much fun, but he was soon able to transfer to an aircraft factory across the river. He made such a good impression that he was asked to take a Komsomol leadership position, which gave him an opportunity to learn a great deal about manufacturing. The plant environment was a combination of genuinely enlightened management–worker involvement in process improvement, financial decentralization–colliding with rigid policies and political interference. There were problems with absenteeism caused by new workers straight off the farm; these led to a government edict: anyone late to work by 20 minutes or more was to be fired, and very likely prosecuted. There was a young worker named Igor who had real inventive talent; he proposed an improved linkage for engine and propeller control systems, which worked out well. But when Igor overslept (the morning after he got married), no exception could be made. He was fired, and “we lost a man who really had a divine spark.”  Zero tolerance!

    Chertok himself wound up in trouble when he was denounced to the Party for having concealed the truth about his parents–that his father was a bookkeeper in a private enterprise and his mother was a Menshevik. He was expelled from the Komsomol and demoted to a lower-level position.  Later in his career, he would also wind up in difficulties because of his Jewish heritage.

    The memoir includes dozens of memorable characters, including:

    *Lidiya Petrovna Kozlovskaya, a bandit queen turned factory supervisor who became Chertok’s superior after his first demotion.

    *Yakov Alksnis, commander of the Red Air Force–a strong leader who foresaw the danger of a surprise attack wiping out the planes on the ground. He was not to survive the Stalin era.

    *Olga Mitkevich, sent by the regime to become “Central Committee Party organizer” at the factory where Chertok was working…did not make a good first impression (“had the aura of a strict school matron–the terror of girls’ preparatory schools”)..but actually proved to be very helpful to getting work done and later became director of what was then the largest aircraft factory in Europe, which job she performed well. She apparently had too much integrity for the times, and her letters to Stalin on behalf of people unjustly accused resulted in her own arrest and execution.

    *Frau Groettrup, wife of a German rocket scientist, one of the many the Russians took in custody after occupying their sector of Germany. Her demands on the victors were rather unbelievable, what’s more unbelievable is that the Russians actually yielded to most of them.

    *Dmitry Ustinov, a rising star in the Soviet hierarchy–according to Chertok an excellent and visionary executive who had much to do with Soviet successes in missiles and space. (Much later, he would become Defense Minister, in which role he was a strong proponent of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.)

    *Valeriya Golubtsova, wife of the powerful Politburo member Georgiy Malenkov, who was Stalin’s immediate successor. Chertok knew her from school–she was an engineer who became an important government executive–and the connection turned out to be very useful. Chertok respected her professional skills, liked her very much, and devotes several pages to her.

    *Yuri Gagarin, first man to fly in space, and Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman.

    *Overshadowing all the other characters is Sergei Korolev, now considered to be the father of the Soviet space program although anonymous during his lifetime.  Korolev spent 6 years in labor camps, having been arrested when his early rocket experiments didn’t pan out; he was released in 1944.  A good leader, in Chertok’s view, though with a bad temper and given to making threats that he never actually carried out.  His imprisonment must have left deep scars–writing about a field trip to a submarine to observe the firing of a ballistic missile, Chertok says that the celebration dinner with the sub’s officers was the only time he ever saw Korolev really happy.

    Chertok’s memoir encompasses the pre-WWII development of the Soviet aircraft industry…early experiments with a rocket-powered interceptor…the evacuation of factories from the Moscow area in the face of the German invasion…a post-war mission to Germany to acquire as much German rocket technology as possible…the development of a Soviet ballistic missile capability…Sputnik…reconnaissance and communications satellites…the Cuban missile crisis…and the race to the moon.

    Some vignettes, themes, and excerpts I thought were particularly interesting:

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Aviation, Big Government, Biography, Leftism, Management, Military Affairs, Russia, Society, Space, Tech | Comments Off on Sputnik Anniversary Rerun–Book Review: Rockets and People

    Why Impeachment Now ?

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on October 4th, 2019 (All posts by )

    The intention to impeach Donald Trump actually followed his election by a day or two. The idea that “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” have been committed is ludicrous. So, why go to this risky strategy now ?

    Well, the Mueller/Weissmann investigation was a dud. Even the left recognized that it did them no good.

    President Trump’s job approval rating has rebounded since the release of a summary of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s findings related to Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to a new poll.

    A Gallup survey released Friday finds that 45 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s job performance, up from 39 percent in March …

    [T]he latest approval figure matches two previous highs in Gallup polling.

    Trump’s earlier 45 percent readings came during his first week in office in January 2017 and in June 2018 after his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

    And when it turned out the report itself contained very damaging evidence of presidential obstruction of justice, Democrats began to think that perhaps public opinion would turn even further against the 45th president, and there was some evidence of that, too:

    The last sentence is wishing.

    At FiveThirtyEight, which maintains the most comprehensive database of polls, Trump’s average approval rating was at 42.1 percent on March 24, the day Barr released his “summary of principal findings.” A week later it was exactly the same. On April 18, when the redacted Mueller report was released, Trump’s average approval rating was 42 percent. FiveThirtyEight reported 14 polls taken (partially or fully) on or after that date. Trump’s average is now at 41.3 percent.

    In simpler terms, it was a flop. So why keep at it ?

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Current Events, Elections, Politics, Trump | 9 Comments »

    Trump and the Ukrainian Translator

    Posted by David Foster on October 2nd, 2019 (All posts by )

    Margaret Ball suggests that the real issue identified by the Trump-Ukraine transcript is the pain that was imposed on the translator who had to translate Trump’s words…which at least appear to be pretty much stream-of-consciousness…into Ukrainian!  Plentiful vodka, she says, was surely required to recover from the experience.

    It strikes me that a profession is kind of like a language, as is a social milieu.  Many of those who find President Trump offensive, I suspect, find it jarring and inappropriate that he doesn’t speak in the forms that they would normally expect from one in his position, and they find that translating his speech to their accustomed verbal frames of reference to be as difficult and disorienting as the Ukrainian translator likely found Trump’s communication in English to be.

    Not only is Trump’s style of speech off-putting to many, so is his mode of thought.  Most national journalists, academics,  and “public intellectuals” are deductive thinkers, who need to put everything into a framework that they have adopted.  Trump, on the other hand, is largely an inductive, intuitive, and pattern-recognizing thinker.  Years ago, I found The Art of the Deal to be a somewhat frustrating read, despite my strong professional interest in the topic.  I am a more deductive thinker and communicator than Trump…but I have enough of the inductive/intuitive/pattern-recognizing mode to be able to understand and appreciate what Trump is doing.  Most of the journalists, academics, and “public intellectuals” do not.

    Some types of people also find it disconcerting when people attain their positions in any manner other than the conventionally-approved course.  Here’s Andy Kessler, writing in the WSJ a few days ago about his time at Morgan Stanley:

    ““What year were you?” a colleague asked me years ago. “Huh? Year?” I replied. “What year at HBS?” H-B-what? “What year did you graduate from Harvard Business School?” Oh, I get it now. “I didn’t go to HBS,” I told him. “Actually, I don’t have an M.B.A.” After a long pause and scrunched-up face, he asked, “Well, then how the hell did you get a job here?” As I walked away, I murmured under my breath, “Maybe I earned it.””

    This also…the negative feeling about somebody who didn’t get there in the way one is supposed to get there…also plays a role in hostile attitudes toward Trump.

     

     

    Posted in Academia, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Media, Miscellaneous, Trump, USA | 17 Comments »

    Age and Guile

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on October 2nd, 2019 (All posts by )

    Age and guile, so the saying goes, beats out youth and speed by a long chalk. (As does possession of generous insurance policies.) Age and experience also build up an overflowing reservoir of cynicism about a lot of things; protestations of enduring love, promises by politicians campaigning for election, and belief in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, among a long, long list of other things.

    So it is with heartfelt convictions when it comes to media and academic protestations of “OMG, The Earth Is Gonna End and We Are All Gonna Die!” Sorry, if you’ve been around long enough (as I have been, long enough to collect Social Security while it still exists) you have been to this rodeo before. And to a good many performances, usually championed by the national media with their hair on fire; Existential doom – how many are there, shall I count the ways? The biggie when I was myself in grade school and for a goodly few decades thereafter was Immanent Nuclear War and Annihilation. Nuclear Winter afflicting any of us fortunate enough to survive that! Then there was the catastrophe of Global Cooling – the New Ice Age descending on us all! (insert extraneous exclamation points here.) We were all gonna freeze! Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Civil Society, Conservatism, Environment, Europe, History, Media | 27 Comments »

    Paying College Athletes

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on September 30th, 2019 (All posts by )

    UPDATE My son may have changed my mind about this. He has clearly thought about it a good deal. In the comments

    I don’t care so much about the issue – it affects me not in the least. But I care about logic, and there is plenty of faulty reasoning going on about the issue.

    The athletes for the two major sports, football and men’s basketball at big schools get given much of value.  Twenty-year-olds don’t always understand much about value, however. They are given excellent room and board.  The recent stories of basketball players complaining they didn’t have enough for meals in college reveals that they sold meal tickets because they wanted the cash.  They are offered plenty of food.  They receive excellent medical care.  Because their health is one of the main things the school is interested in, the school makes sure they get MRIs and other diagnostic tests, proper medication, diagnoses and treatment even for injuries and conditions they did not acquire on the playing fields. You have to be quite wealthy to get better medical care. I fully admit that their risks are higher. Nonetheless, it’s very good care.

    They have a built in social life, plus a significant leg up in status on campus.  Not that everyone loves athletes, but plenty do admire them and want to be with them. They also have a network to draw on for future jobs, if they choose to use it.  There are plenty of alums who like to know people on the team and are glad to invite them places. They have businesses and know others who do too. These aren’t a guarantee, but they are an advantage. Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 27 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on September 29th, 2019 (All posts by )

    Conrad Black:

    Beneath the façade of Norman Rockwell and Walt Disney and most of Hollywood’s production before it was taken over by the limousine left, the United States is a jungle, and that is its strength and its weakness. It assures an immensely competitive Darwinian society in constant fermentation with high levels of achievement in practically every field, but it also causes inordinately large numbers of people to be ground to powder. The land of opportunity is the place where anyone can accomplish almost anything, but there is a threadbare safety net and more than 30 million people live in poverty. It has six to 12 times as many incarcerated people as other large, prosperous democracies, including Canada. And like all jungles, it is run, even if from a little behind the scenes, by the human equivalent of 30-foot constricting snakes and 700-pound cats. Trump’s offence, and his strength, is that he doesn’t make much effort to disguise the fact that he is a fierce, tough and often ruthless alumnus of the very tough schools of American capitalism, entertainment and politics.

    Trump is a man of his times. It’s sad that the times are such that only a Trump can promote America’s interests successfully, but that’s reality as recognized by a plurality of voters. Trump, unlike most elected Republicans in national office, gets results and that’s what counts. The media clerics will always misrepresent what’s going on, not only because of their partisan bias but because they deal in words and Trump is a man of action. Trump doesn’t play their game and they are unwilling or unable to understand what he does. Ordinary voters are probably more clear-headed.

     

    Posted in Conservatism, Politics, Trump, USA | 25 Comments »

    The Drivers of Political Cruelty and Arrogance

    Posted by David Foster on September 27th, 2019 (All posts by )

    Stuart Schneiderman had a post on the question:  Should Government Produce Happiness?   One commenter said:

    We might say Nazi Germany tried to produce happiness by promoting national pride, and racial pride. They created myths of superiority and suddenly if you had blond hair and blue eyes, you instantly gained status and could walk down the street with other special people and scheme collective revenge against the people who are wrongfully trying to hold you back. This suggest populist leaders at least are good at identifying scapegoats and unifying people against common enemies. You can project all your shortcomings on your external enemies and righteously hate them for it. Certainly it must feels like happiness when you believe your specialness (personal and collective) will soon be honored, and you’ll work very hard to make it happen.

    I’m not sure that “populist” is really a proper description of a political movement which stood for absolute top-down rule…but there’s no question that the Nazi ideas of racial superiority led to a feeling of ‘specialness’ on the part of many if not most followers.  Also, many people who did not have a strong affinity for Nazi ideology…or any affinity at all…still felt a strong pull toward the movement, for reasons of a need for group belonging.  As an example,  I saw a documentary in which a strongly anti-Nazi German said that despite his clear recognition that Naziism was evil, he had still felt a sense of loss and by not being part of the circle of warmth that he perceived in the Nazi rallies.

    But, as I noted in the comments to Stuart’s post, it is serious mistake to identify these motivations with only “right wing” movements such as Naziism. In-group identification and arrogance, the use of scapegoats, and the evil pleasures of political cruelty…all these things are major features of today’s “progressive’ movement.  I have documented many examples of this in prior posts, for example here.  While some have claimed that the violence, intolerance, and harassment so common on the Left is a reaction to Trump, there was clearly a lot of this going on long before Trump became a political factor.  It was going on, especially, in American’s universities, and it should have been clear that this toxic behavior would spread beyond the campus into the wider American society.

    Sarah Hoyt:

    If I could communicate just one thing, across the increasing divide of language and thought to the left it would be this: that warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you’re running someone down is not righteousness.  It’s just the feeling apes get when they run off another ape.

    If you’re part of a band and all of you were piling on an outsider — or an insider who was just declared an outsider and run off — you’ll also feel very connected to your band, and a feeling of being loved and belonging.  It’s not real. It’s the result of a “reward” rush of endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine that flood your body after stress and a perceived “victory.”  Oxytocin, particularly, promotes a feeling of bonding with those around you.

    Just remember, as you’re high fiving each other and believing that something that feels so good has to be good and morally “just” you could be the victim tomorrow.  Because the feelings don’t last, and that rush of “righteousness and victory” is addictive. Those who are your comrades today will be looking for someone to kick in the face tomorrow. And it really could be you.

    I’ve previously quoted some related thoughts from the American writer John Dos Passos.  In his younger years, he was a man of the Left, and, like many leftists and some others he was very involved with the Sacco and Vanzetti case.  But he was more than a little disturbed by some of those that shared his viewpoint.  Describing one protest he attended, he wrote:

    From sometime during this spring of 1926 of from the winter before a recollection keeps rising to the surface. The protest meeting is over and I’m standing on a set of steps looking into the faces of the people coming out of the hall. I’m frightened by the tense righteousness of the faces. Eyes like a row of rifles aimed by a firing squad. Chins thrust forward into the icy night. It’s almost in marching step that they stride out into the street. It’s the women I remember most, their eyes searching out evil through narrowed lids. There’s something threatening about this unanimity of protest. They are so sure they are right.

    I agree with their protest:  I too was horrified by this outrage.  I’m not one either to stand by and see injustice done.  But do I agree enough?  A chill goes down my spine..Whenever I remember the little scene I tend to turn it over in my mind.  Why did my hackles rise at the sight of the faces of these good people coming out of the hall? 

    Was it a glimpse of the forming of a new class conformity that like all class conformities was bent on riding the rest of us?

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, History, Human Behavior, Society, Tech, Trump, USA | 26 Comments »

    When They Came for Those Other People, Updated

    Posted by David Foster on September 25th, 2019 (All posts by )

    In 2015, I posted the poem “Into Our Town the Hangman Came,” with comments about its relevance to the current political situation.  I’ve now reposted this poem at Ricochet, with additional commentary about the “Cancel Culture” and a link to a relevant book review by Roger Scruton.

     

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Leftism, USA | 16 Comments »

    At Home With the Homeless

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on September 24th, 2019 (All posts by )

    The homeless, like the poor are, as Jesus depressingly observed, always with us. Admittedly the American poor are darned well-off, when compared to the poor in other times and in other places. It was reported last week on one of my go-to sites, that of all the homeless in the USA, half of them appear to have taken up residence on the streets, alleys and byways of California, although a fair number of the technically homeless are well-adjusted and employed, and merely living out of RVs, vans, trailers and automobiles parked on streets and parking lots because they cannot afford a rental of a dwelling-place without wheels on it. My daughter has brought home some pretty chilling observation of street people in Pasadena, over the last couple of years; the ubiquity of substance-addled and hygiene-challenged street people and their scratch encampments still shocks her, on every visit to family out there.

    Not that we didn’t ever see street people, or vagrants here in San Antonio; there always were a handful, panhandling at certain intersections with a cardboard sign, hanging out at the bus station, or wherever there were services of any sort catering to the down-and-out. Sometimes when I had to use the city bus system because my car was at the garage, I’d see some truly odd people at the stops or sometimes on the bus. Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Civil Society, Culture, Current Events, Texas, Urban Issues | 26 Comments »

    Not-Really-Summer-Anymore Rerun: Coming Soon, to Places Near You?

    Posted by David Foster on September 23rd, 2019 (All posts by )

    (Summer is now officially over, but I thought this story from Rose Wilder Lane, whose work I reviewed and excerpted a couple of days ago, was worthy of a repost)

    In 1926, Rose and her friend Helen Dore Boylston, both then living in Paris, decided to buy a Model T Ford and drive it to Albania. Their adventure is chronicled in the book Travels With Zenobia.  (Helen’s nickname was “Troub”, which stood for “trouble.”)

    Acquisition of the car–a “glamorized” 1926 model which was maroon in color rather than the traditional Ford black–went smoothly. Acquisition of the proper government documentation allowing them to actually drive it–not so much:

    Having bought this splendid Ford, my friend and I set out to get permission to drive it, and to drive it out of Paris and out of France. We worked separately, to make double use of time. For six weeks we worked, steadily, every day and every hour the Government offices were open. When they closed, we met to rest in the lovely leisure of a cafe and compared notes and considered ways of pulling wires…

    One requirement was twelve passport pictures of that car…But this was a Ford, naked from the factory; not a detail nor a mark distinguished it from the millions of its kind; yet I had to engage a photographer to take a full-radiator-front picture of it, where it still stood in the salesroom, and to make twelve prints, each certified to be a portrait of that identical car. The proper official pasted these, one by one, in my presence, to twelve identical documents, each of which was filled out in ink, signed and counter-signed, stamped and tax-stamped; and, of course, I paid for them…

    After six hard-working weeks, we had all the car’s papers. Nearly an inch think they were, laid flat. Each was correctly signed and stamped, each had in addition the little stamp stuck on, showing that the tax was paid that must be paid on every legal document; this is the Stamp tax that Americans refused to pay. I believe we had license plates besides; I know we had drivers’ licenses.

    Gaily at last we set out in our car, and in the first block two policemen stopped us…Being stopped by the police was not unusual, of course. The car’s papers were in its pocket, and confidently I handed them over, with our personal papers, as requested.

    The policemen examined each one, found it in order, and noted it in their little black books. Then courteously they arrested us.

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Biography, Book Notes, Europe, France, History, Humor, Libertarianism, Political Philosophy | 9 Comments »

    Summer Rerun—Hoffer on Scribes and Bureaucrats

    Posted by David Foster on September 22nd, 2019 (All posts by )

    Nothing is so unsettling to a social order as the presence of a mass of scribes without suitable employment and an acknowledged status…The explosive component in the contemporary scene is not the clamor of the masses but the self-righteous claims of a multitude of graduates from schools and universities. This army of scribes is clamoring for a society in which planning, regulation, and supervision are paramount and the prerogative of the educated. They hanker for the scribe’s golden age, for a return to something like the scribe-dominated societies of ancient Egypt, China, and the Europe of the Middle Ages. There is little doubt that the present trend in the new and renovated countries toward social regimentation stems partly from the need to create adequate employment for a large number of scribes…Obviously, a high ratio between the supervisory and the productive force spells economic inefficiency. Yet where social stability is an overriding need the economic waste involved in providing suitable positions for the educated might be an element of social efficiency.


    and

    It has often been stated that a social order is likely to be stable so long as it gives scope to talent. Actually, it is the ability to give scope to the untalented that is most vital in maintaining social stability…For there is a tendency in the untalented to divert their energies from their own development into the management, manipulation, and probably frustration of others. They want to police, instruct, guide, and meddle. In an adequate society, the untalented should be able to acquire a sense of usefulness and of growth without interfering with the development of talent around them. This requires, first, an abundance of opportunities for purposeful action and self-advancement. Secondly, a wide diffusion of technical and social skills so that people will be able to work and manage their affairs with a minimum of tutelage. The scribe mentality is best neutralized by canalizing energies into purposeful and useful pursuits, and by raising the cultural level of the whole population so as to blur the dividing line between the educated and the uneducated…We do not know enough to suit a social pattern to the realization of all the creative potentialities inherent in a population. But we do know that a scribe-dominated society is not optimal for the full unfolding of the creative mind.

    –Eric Hoffer, The Ordeal of Change

    (This essay was published in the late 1950s or early 1960s. Hoffer was talking here not principally about the United States but about what were then called “underdeveloped countries.”)

    (2019 update)  Also, Francis Bacon noted four hundred years ago that one reason for sedition and mutiny in any polity was breeding more scholars than preferment can take off…A modern translation of might be “graduating more PhDs than have any hope of getting tenure,” or, more generally, “graduating more people with degrees, and especially advanced degrees, than can use those degrees to pay for the cost of getting same.”

    The extended Bacon quote:  “Therefore the multiplying of nobility, and other degrees of quality, in an over proportion to the common people, doth speedily bring a state to necessity; and so doth likewise an overgrown clergy; for they bring nothing to the stock; and in like manner, when more are bred scholars, than preferments can take off.”

     

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Economics & Finance, Education, Political Philosophy | 5 Comments »

    Summer Rerun–Of Energy and Slavery

    Posted by David Foster on September 19th, 2019 (All posts by )

    (edited, with updates)

    Democratic candidates are demonizing the energy industry–Bernie Sanders even called for the criminal prosecution of fossil fuel executives–believing or at least implying that America uses fossil fuels only because it is to the benefit of these companies, never considering the vital service that these fuels provide to millions of Americans and indeed to the entire world…which reminds me of an earlier article and discussion.

    Christopher Hayes, writing at The Nation in 2014, asserted a connection between human slavery–in particular, human slavery as practiced in the US prior to 1865–and the use of fossil fuels. Specifically, he argues that the reluctance of energy companies and their investors to lose the financial value of their fossil-fuel assets is directly analogous to the reluctance of pre-Civil-War southern slaveholders to lose the financial value of their human “property.”He also asserts that environmentalists attacking the use of fossil fuels are in a moral and tactical position similar to that of the pre-war Abolitionists.

    His article reminded me of a few things.

    1) Sometime around 1900, a young PR man who had recently been hired by GE in Schenectady realized that he had a problem. He had gotten his job through glowing promises about all the great press coverage he would get for the company. But his boss had called him in and announced that he had “a terrific front-page story” about a 60,000-kilowatt turbine generator that the company had just sold to Commonwealth Edison. The PR man accurately realized that this story would get maybe a paragraph on the financial pages. Looking for ideas, he went to see GE’s legendary research genius, Charles Steinmetz, explaining that headlines need drama, and “there’s nothing dramatic about a generator.”

    Steinmetz picked up a pencil, did a little calculating, and quickly determined that this one rotating machine could do as much physical work as 5.4 million men. The slave population in the US on the eve of the Civil War had been 4.7 million. To the young PR man, Steinmetz said: “I suggest you send out a story that says we are building a single machine that, through the miracle of electricity, will each day do more work than the combined slave population of the nation at the time of the Civil War.”

    2) Frederick Douglass, himself a former slave, visited a shipyard in New Bedford shortly after obtaining his freedom. Here are his comments on observing a cargo being unloaded:

    In a southern port, twenty or thirty hands would have been employed to do what five or six did here, with the aid of a single ox attached to the end of a fall. Main strength, unassisted by skill, is slavery’s method of labor. An old ox, worth eighty dollars, was doing, in New Bedford, what would have required fifteen thousand dollars worth of human bones and muscles to have performed in a southern port.

    3) Speaking of GE, Owen Young was a farm boy who grew up to become chairman of that company. To his biographer Ida Tarbell, he provided a vivid word-picture of what life had been like for a farm wife back in the slightly earlier times. Here, he remembers Monday–wash day:

    He drew from his memory a vivid picture of its miseries: the milk coming into the house from the barn; the skimming to be done; the pans and buckets to be washed; the churn waiting attention; the wash boiler on the stove while the wash tub and its back-breaking device, the washboard, stood by; the kitchen full of steam; hungry men at the door anxious to get at the day’s work and one pale, tired, and discouraged woman in the midst of this confusion.

    The reality is that non-human mechanical energy has been and continues to be a liberating force for humanity. A society which makes little use of nonhuman energy can maintain a small and wealthy aristocracy, but broad-based prosperity requires extensive use of nonhuman energy sources–and with today’s technological realities, a large portion of this energy needs to come from fossil fuels.

    Hayes does not seem to understand, or want to recognize, that the benefits of an energy source accrue not only to the companies and individuals who develop and own that energy source, but also to the people of the society at large. (The benefits of the coal and oil (and later natural gas) burned to power the turbines made by Owen Young’s company did not go only to the resource owners and to GE and the utility companies, but also to the farm housewives about whom he spoke.) At one point in the Hayes article he seems to reach the edge of this understanding — “Before fossil fuels, the only way out of this drudgery was by getting other human beings to do the bulk of the work that the solar regime required of its participants” — but does not really follow up on it. The thrust of his article is that the elimination of fossil fuels would require energy companies to give up something like $10 trillion in wealth. He does not focus on what the American people as a whole would have to give up.

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Energy & Power Generation, Environment, Leftism, Tech | 13 Comments »

    Training Wheels

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on September 18th, 2019 (All posts by )

    This last weekend was the start of the fall book market season; I spent three days in Giddings, Texas, as one of the local authors invited to participate in the yearly Word Wrangler Book Festival – which is sponsored by the local library, and supported by practically every civic institution in Giddings, including the local elementary and high schools. Last Thursday, the first day of Word Wrangler, certain of us authors volunteered to go and visit schools for readings, or to just talk about writing. This year, I visited three middle-school classes, to talk to sixth graders about writing, the stories that they liked, and what they could write about. I like doing this with fifth and sixth grade students, by the way – they are old enough to read pretty well, but not so old as to be jaded by the whole ‘visiting writer/storyteller’ thing. Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Blogging, Book Notes, Diversions, Education, Media | 9 Comments »

    Summer Rerun–Author Appreciation: Rose Wilder Lane

    Posted by David Foster on September 17th, 2019 (All posts by )

    Rose Wilder Lane, born in 1886 in the Dakota Territory, was the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the “Little House on the Prairie” books. Lane is best known for her writings on political philosophy and has been referred to as a “Founding Mother” of libertarianism; she was also a novelist and the author of several biographies.

    In her article Credo, published in 1936, she describes her political journey, beginning with the words:

    In 1919 I was a communist.

    She was impressed with the idealism of the individual Communists she met, and found their economic logic convincing. But when she visited the Soviet Union in the 1920s, she became disillusioned. And, unlike many visitors to the USSR, she did not conclude that Communism was still a great idea but had just been carried out poorly; rather, she began to grasp the structural flaws with the whole thing.

    In Soviet Georgia, the villager who was her host complained about the growing bureaucracy that was taking more and more men from productive work, and predicted chaos and suffering from the centralizing of economic power in Moscow. At first she saw his attitude as merely “the opposition of the peasant mind to new ideas,” and undertook to convince him of the benefits of central planning. He shook his head sadly.

    It is too big – he said – too big. At the top, it is too small. It will not work. In Moscow there are only men, and man is not God. A man has only a man’s head, and one hundred heads together do not make one great big head. No. Only God can know Russia.”

    This man’s insight prefigures Hayek’s writing about the role of knowledge in society, not to be published until 1944. His comments, her other observations while in the Soviet Union, and her own thinking about the way that economies actually work convinced her that:

    Centralized economic control over multitudes of human beings must therefore be continuous and perhaps superhumanly flexible, and it must be autocratic. It must be government by a swift flow of edicts issued in haste to catch up with events receding into the past before they can be reported, arranged, analyzed and considered, and it will be compelled to use compulsion. In the effort to succeed, it must become such minute and rigorous control of details of individual life as no people will accept without compulsion. It cannot be subject to the intermittent checks, reversals, and removals of men in power which majorities cause in republics.

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Book Notes, Civil Society, Europe, History, Leftism, Libertarianism, Political Philosophy, USA | 7 Comments »