Tuesday, July 25, 2017
Ninety years ago this month, the first Centralized Traffic Control system was placed in operation, on a 40-mile stretch of railroad belonging to the New York Central. From a central console, the Dispatcher was able to control switches and signals anywhere in the territory. The positions of individual trains were displayed via lights on the panel. Interlocking logic at the remote locations ensure that neither dispatcher errors nor communication problems could set up potentially-dangerous conflicts.
In today’s terminology, it was a geographically-distributed robotics system, with a strong flavor of what is now being called the Internet of Things–although the communications links in the system were not provided by the Internet, obviously, the concept of devices announcing their status via telecommunications and receiving commands the same way was quite similar.
Sunday, July 23, 2017
SUMMER RERUN: FANNY KEMBLE
See the post at Chicago Boyz. This is a consolidation and editing of three earlier posts. Don't miss the new link at the end.
Saturday, July 22, 2017
ROBOTS OF THE WEEK: REPLACING CASHIERS IN GROCERY STORES AND CAFETERIAS
(Technically, these are artificial intelligence systems but probably shouldn’t really count as ‘robots’ since they respond to the physical world but don’t manipulate it)
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
SUMMER RERUN: JOUSTING WITH A PHANTOM
(Victor Davis Hanson’s recent piece, The Fifth American War, reminded me of this post. I think it is crucially important to understand that many of those calling for ‘equality’ do not themselves have any interest in being merely equal, any more than Napoleon the Pig did in Orwell’s novel ‘Animal Farm’)
Those people who call themselves “progressives” are talking a lot about equality and inequality these days. And conservatives/libertarians, in response, attempt to explain why “equality of outcomes” is infeasible and unwise.
To a substantial degree, though, they/we are jousting with a phantom. Because leading “progressives” don’t really believe in anything resembling equality—indeed, quite the contrary.
Consider, for example: Many people in “progressive” leadership positions are graduates of the Harvard Law School. Do you think these people want to see a society in which the career, status, and income prospects for an HLS grad are no better than those for a graduate of a lesser-known, lower-status (but still very good) law school? C’mon.
Quite a few “progressive” leaders are members of prominent families. Do you think Teddy Kennedy would have liked to see an environment in which he and certain other members of his family would have had to answer for their actions in the criminal courts in the same way that ordinary individuals would, without benefit from connections, media influence, and expensive lawyers?
The prevalence of “progressivism” among tenured professors is quite high. How many of these professors would be eager to agree to employment conditions in which their job security and employee benefits were no better than those enjoyed by average Americans? How many of them would take a salary cut in order to provide higher incomes for the poorly-paid adjunct professors at their universities? How many would like to see PhD requirements eliminated so that a wider pool of talented and knowledgeable individuals can participate in university teaching?
There are a lot of “progressives” among the graduates of Ivy League universities. How many of them would be in favor of legally eliminating alumni preferences and the influence of “contributions” and have their children considered for admission–or not–on the same basis as everyone else’s kids? Yet an alumni preference is an intergenerational asset in the same way that a small businessman’s store or factory is.
The reality is that “progressivism” is not in any way about equality, it is rather about shifting the distribution of power and wealth in a way that benefits those with certain kinds of educational credentials and certain kinds of connections. And remember, power and connections are always transmutable into wealth. Sometimes that wealth is directly dollar-denominated, as in the millions of dollars that former president Bill Clinton has been paid in speaking fees, or the money made by a former government official who leverages his contacts into an executive job with a “green” energy company–even though he may have minimal knowledge of either energy or business. And sometimes the wealth takes the form of in-kind benefits, like a university president’s mansion. (Those who lived in the old Soviet Union and Eastern Europe can tell you all about in-kind benefits for nominally low-paid officials.) And, almost always, today’s “progressivism” is about the transfer of power from individuals to credentialed “experts” who will coerce or “nudge” people to do with those experts have decided would be best.
To a very substantial extent, the talk about “equality” is a smokescreen, conscious or unconscious, behind which “progressives” pursue their own economic, status, and ego agendas.
Writing in 1969, Peter Drucker–who was born in Austria and had lived in several European countries–wrote about what he saw as a key American economic advantage: the much less-dominant role played by “elite” educational institutions:
One thing it (modern society) cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain. A main reason for the technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale. These elite institutions may do a magnificent job of education, but only their graduates normally get into the command positions. Only their faculties “matter.” This restricts and impoverishes the whole society…The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim…
It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the strength of American higher education lies in this absence of schools for leaders and schools for followers.
The “unwillingness of American society to accept this claim”…the claim of elite education as the primary gateway to power and wealth…has been greatly undercut since Drucker wrote. And “progressives” have been among the main under-cutters and the leading advocates for further movement in that direction.
Sunday, July 16, 2017
A good video on the women who flew military aircraft in Britain during WWII. Title is a little misleading, lots of airplane types other than Spitfires were involved.
Saturday, July 15, 2017
ROBOT OF THE WEEK: THE AUDI TRAFFIC JAM PILOT
On certain roads, it is able to control the vehicle without driver involvement at speeds up to 37 mph. The system, which in addition to the Traffic Jam Pilot also includes the Garage Pilot and the Parking Pilot, uses technology from Nvidia, Mobileye, and Delphi.
The feature package is available (not sure if its optional or standard) with the 2018 model A8.
Disclosure: I’m an NVDA shareholder.
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
SUMMER RERUN: SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY
Why has the western world shown such loss of will in defending itself from radical Islamic terrorism? Why, indeed, do substantial numbers of people–particularly those who view themselves as intellectuals–endlessly make excuses for belief systems and terrorist movements whose values are completely at odds with their own stated values–and even romanticize these systems and their followers? I think some clues can be found in a forgotten novel by Arthur Koestler.
The Age of Longing (published in 1950) is set in Paris, “sometime in the 1950s,” in a world in which France–indeed all of western Europe–is facing the very real possibility of a Soviet invasion. Hydie Anderson, the protagonist, is a young American woman living in Paris with her father, a military attache. Hydie was a devout Catholic during her teens, but has lost her faith. She was briefly married, and has had several relationships with men, but in none of them has she found either physical or emotional satisfaction…she describes her life with a phrase from T S Eliot: “frigid purgatorial fires,” and she longs for a sense of connection:
Hydie sipped at her glass. Here was another man living in his own portable glass cage. Most people she knew did. Each one inside a kind of invisible telephone box. They did not talk to you directly but through a wire. Their voices came through distorted and mostly they talked to the wrong number, even when they lay in bed with you. And yet her craving to smash the glass between the cages had come back again. If cafes were the home of those who had lost their country, bed was the sanctuary of those who had lost their faith.
Through her friend Julien DeLattre, Hydie is introduced to a number of Paris intellectuals and and East European emigres. Members of the former group are mostly in denial about the danger of a Soviet attack…many of them have indeed convinced themselves that Communist rule wouldn’t be all that bad. For example, there’s Professor Pontieux (modeled on Sartre)…”He did not believe that the Commonwealth of Freedomloving People had solved all its problems and become an earthly paradise. But it was equally undeniable that it was an expression of History’s groping progress towards a new form of society, when it followed that those who opposed this progres were siding with the forces of reaction and preparing the way for conflict and war–the worst crime against Humanity.” Vardi, another intellectual, says that if he had to choose between the (American) juke box on one hand, and Pravda on another, he isn’t sure which he would pick.
Madame Pontieux, modeled on Simone de Bouvoir (with whom Koestler had a brief affair) is less ambiguous about her choice among the alternatives. “You cannot enter a cafe or a restaurant without finding it full of Americans who behave as if the place belonged to them,” she complains to an American official. When the Russian emigre Leontiev suggests that France would not survive without American military support, pointing out that “nature abhors a vacuum,” she turns on him:
“I am surprised at your moderation, Citizen Leontiev,” Madame Pontieux said sarcastically. “I thought you would tell us that without this young man’s protection the Commonwealth army would at once march to the Atlantic shore.”
“It would,” said Leontiev. “I believed that everyone knew that.”
“I refuse to believe it,” responds Madame Pontieux. “But if choose one must I would a hundred times rather dance to the music of a Balalaika than a juke box.”
(The French intellectuals Koestler knew must have really hated juke boxes!)
Julien is romantically interested in Hydie, but she is not attracted to him, despite the fact that he seems to have much to recommend him–a hero of the French Resistance, wounded in action, and a successful poet. On one occasion, she tells him that she could never sleep with him because they are too similar–“it would be like incest”..on another occasion, though, she tells him that “what I most dislike about you is your attitude of arrogant broken-heartedness.” Parallel to Hydie’s loss of religious faith is Julien’s loss of his secular faith in the creation of a new society. He does not now believe in utopia, or any approximation to same, but he does believe in the need to face reality, however unpleasant it may be. Hydie argues that the Leftists of their acquaintance may be silly, but at least they believe in something:
“Perhaps they believe in a mirage–but isn’t it better to believe in a mirage than to believe in nothing?”
Julien looked at her coldly, almost with contempt:
“Definitely not. Mirages lead people astray. That’s why there are so many skeletons in the desert. Read more history. Its caravan-routes are strewn with the skeletons of people who were thirsting for faith–and their faith made them drink salt water and eat the sand, believing it was the Lord’s Supper.”
At a diplomatic affair, Hydie meets Fedya, a committed Communist who works for the Soviet Embassy. She is powerfully attracted to him: things get physical very quickly and, from Hydie’s point of view, very satisfactorily. (Fedya is one of Koestler’s best-developed characters. His boyhood in Baku is vividly sketched, and Koestler–himself a former Communist–does a good job in showing how a political faith can become core to an individual’s whole personality.)
Friday, July 07, 2017
SUMMER RERUN: THE CALENDAR IS NOT OMNIPOTENT
This video of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser reacting to a Muslim Brotherhood demand that women be required to wear head coverings
reminded me of a post from 2014.
At Chicago Boyz
Thursday, July 06, 2017
SUMMER RERUN: SELLING NEW CONCEPTS CAN BE CHALLENGING
Via Maggie’s Farm, here’s a Bob Newhart skit from 1970. Bob plays the role of an 1890s-style venture capitalist, talking on the phone with inventor Herman Hollerith, who is trying to explain the merits of punched card technology.
Related: Father, Son & Co., the biography of long-time IBM CEO Thomas Watson Jr, is the best business autobiography I’ve read. I reviewed it here.
Tuesday, July 04, 2017
SHALL IT BE SUSTAINED?
For the last several years, on July 4th I’ve posted an excerpt from Stephen Vincent Benet’s poem Listen to the People. The title I’ve used for these posts prior to 2013 was It Shall Be Sustained, which is from the last line of Benet’s poem.
This is Independence Day,
Fourth of July, the day we mean to keep,
Whatever happens and whatever falls
Out of a sky grown strange;
This is firecracker day for sunburnt kids,
The day of the parade,
Slambanging down the street.
Listen to the parade!
There’s J. K. Burney’s float,
Red-white-and-blue crepe-paper on the wheels,
The Fire Department and the local Grange,
There are the pretty girls with their hair curled
Who represent the Thirteen Colonies,
The Spirit of East Greenwich, Betsy Ross,
Democracy, or just some pretty girls.
There are the veterans and the Legion Post
(Their feet are going to hurt when they get home),
The band, the flag, the band, the usual crowd,
Good-humored, watching, hot,
Silent a second as the flag goes by,
Kidding the local cop and eating popsicles,
Jack Brown and Rosie Shapiro and Dan Shay,
Paul Bunchick and the Greek who runs the Greek’s,
The black-eyed children out of Sicily,
The girls who giggle and the boys who push,
All of them there and all of them a nation.
There’ll be ice-cream and fireworks and a speech
By somebody the Honorable Who,
The lovers will pair off in the kind dark
And Tessie Jones, our honor-graduate,
Will read the declaration.
That’s how it is. It’s always been that way.
That’s our Fourth of July, through war and peace,
That’s our fourth of July.
And a lean farmer on a stony farm
Came home from mowing, buttoned up his shirt
And walked ten miles to town.
Musket in hand.
He didn’t know the sky was falling down
And, it may be, he didn’t know so much.
But people oughtn’t to be pushed around
By kings or any such.
A workman in the city dropped his tools.
An ordinary, small-town kind of man
Found himself standing in the April sun,
One of a ragged line
Against the skilled professionals of war,
The matchless infantry who could not fail,
Not for the profit, not to conquer worlds,
Not for the pomp or the heroic tale
But first, and principally, since he was sore.
They could do things in quite a lot of places.
They shouldn’t do them here, in Lexington.
He looked around and saw his neighbors’ faces
The poem is very long, and is worth reading in full. The full text was published in Life Magazine; it is online here
. The Life text may be a little difficult to read; I posted an excerpt which is considerably longer than the above here
Benet’s poem ends with these words:
We made it and we make it and it’s ours
We shall maintain it. It shall be sustained
But shall it?
Sunday, July 02, 2017
SUMMER RERUN: SOME SHORT BOOK REVIEWS
Three mini-reviews in this batch:
“Vanity Fair,” William Makepeace Thackery
“The Promised Land,” Mary Antin
“Metropolitan Corridor,” John Stillgoe
At Chicago Boyz
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
LYNCHINGS AND WITCH-TRIALS, TECHNOLOGY-ENHANCED
A few weeks ago, shortly after I left my magazine gig, I had breakfast with a well-known Toronto man of letters. He told me his week had been rough, in part because it had been discovered that he was still connected on social media with a colleague who’d fallen into disfavour with Stupid Twitter-Land. “You know that we all can see that you are still friends with him,” read one of the emails my friend had received. “So. What are you going to do about that?”
“So I folded,” he told me with a sad, defeated air. “I know I’m supposed to stick to my principles. That’s what we tell ourselves. Free association and all that. It’s part of the romance of our profession. But I can’t afford to actually do that. These people control who gets jobs. I’m broke. So now I just go numb and say whatever they need me to say.”
The Writers Union of Canada and the University of British Columbia Fine Arts faculty do not operate gulags. Nevertheless, the idea that a whole career can fall victim to a single social-media message sent in a moment of anger or frustration — or even a bad joke — has produced an atmosphere of real terror that is compromising the art and intellect of Canada’s most creative minds.
I don’t think it’s just Canada, although perhaps it’s worse there than in the US at the moment.
Motivations of the trolls:
A lot of these people are brilliant writers who have spent their lives toiling in obscurity. Whole years may pass during which they will write a book of poetry, or an academic thesis, that perhaps only a few hundred people will ever read. The privilege that I am putting on display here — the right to author a long essay in a national newspaper — isn’t available to most of them. But thanks to the three-way combination of social-media technology, the moral urgency of identity politics, and these intellectuals’ hallowed status as wordsmiths, they now have a chance to gain a wide audience — and even impose their moral judgments on others. It is not hard to see why they would jump at this chance.
I am reminded of Peter Drucker’s report of a conversation he had with an acquaintance who was supporting the Nazi party. This man had come from a working-class background and felt that his career prospects had been very limited, but “Now I have a party membership card with a very low number and I am going to be somebody.”
Clarence Thomas referred to the media coverage surrounding his candidateship for the US Supreme Court as a “high-tech lynching”…the high-tech in this case evidently being television. But the nature of the television medium meant that denunciations had to originate from or at least be directed by a fairly small group of media-company employees. Now, with the rise of social media, we have crowdsourced denunciations and witch-trials, as described in the Jonathan Kay article.
In my post Freedom, the Village, and the Internet, I drew on some passages in the novel Every Man Dies Alone, which is centered on a German couple who become anti-Nazi activists after their son Ottochen is killed in the war (it was inspired by, and is loosely based on, a real-life story.)
Trudel, who was Ottochen’s fiancee, is a sweet and intelligent girl who is strongly anti-Nazi..and unlike Ottochen’s parents, she became an activist prior to being struck by personal tragedy: she is a member of a resistance cell at the factory where she works. But she finds that she cannot stand the unending psychological strain of underground work–made even worse by the rigid and doctrinaire man (apparently a Communist) who is leader of the cell–and she drops out. Another member of the cell, who has long been in love with her, also finds that he is not built for such work, and drops out also.
After they marry and Trudel becomes pregnant, they decide to leave the politically hysterical environment of Berlin for a small town where–they believe–life will be freer and calmer.
Like many city dwellers, they’d had the mistaken belief that spying was only really bad in Berlin and that decency still prevailed in small towns. And like many city dwellers, they had made the painful discovery that recrimination, eavesdropping, and informing were ten times worse in small towns than in the big city. In a small town, everyone was fully exposed, you couldn’t ever disappear in the crowd. Personal circumstances were quickly ascertained, conversations with neighbors were practically unavoidable, and the way such conversations could be twisted was something they had already experienced in their own lives, to their chagrin.
Sunday, June 25, 2017
SUMMER RERUN SEASON
It being officially summer, I'm rerunning (at Chicago Boyz) some posts from the past that I think are of continuing value. Here's the first batch:
Applied Networking in the Early 1900s
Leaving (Several Trillion) on the Table
Sir Patrick Spence
At least one of the Chicago Boyz authors is also doing summer reruns.
Saturday, June 17, 2017
If anyone would like to discuss President Trump’s proposal for an expanded role for apprenticeship programs in America…and related broader issues of workforce training and skills development…this is the place. Some useful links:
(There are also state regulations)
Friday, June 16, 2017
CRAZINESS, CONFORMITY, COWARDICE, AND CRUELTY
Some stories about behavior of “progressives” and their institutions which represent the above characteristics in particularly egregious fashion.
Aisha O’Connor writes about her experiences at Bryn Mawr. This was back in the early 1990s. I doubt that things have gotten any saner since.
Rick Poach reports on a conversation (if you can call one-way communication a conversation) overheard in a diner last November 10.
Roger Simon writes about witch hunts and unhinged leftist rage.
Monday, June 12, 2017
PATTERNS OF PREJUDICE IN LEGAL-INDUSTRY HIRING
In a study summarized here, two sociologists sent 316 law firms résumés with identical and impressive work and academic credentials, but different cues about social class. The study found that men who fit a profile identified by the researchers as “upper-class origins”…by listing hobbies like sailing and listening to classical music had a callback rate 12 times higherthan those of men who signaled working-class origins, for example by mentioning country music and track and field sports.
For comparison, the callback ratio between those profiled as “upper class men” versus “upper class women” was 4X. Yet “lower class women” received callbacks at almost 5X the rate of “lower class men,” and at 1.6X the rate of “upper class women”!
I’m not sure the metric used by the researchers really distinguishes economic class…there are a lot of very-well-off people who like country music…but rather some class archetype that exists in the minds of some people, evidently including those people involved in hiring at the subject law firms. (I also wonder how many of these law firm people actually listen to classical music on any kind of basis, rather than just using it for an “our sort of person” filter) It seems to me that regional/geographical prejudice (against southerners and rural people) and ethnic prejudice (against people of Scots-Irish background) are influencing these hiring decision-makers.
Tuesday, June 06, 2017
JUNE 6, 1944
Neptunus Lex: The liberation of France started when each, individual man on those landing craft as the ramp came down – each paratroop in his transport when the light turned green – made the individual decision to step off with the only life he had and face the fire.
Monday, June 05, 2017
BEFORE D-DAY, THERE WAS DIEPPE
Tomorrow will mark the 73rd anniversary of the Normandy Invasion. Most Americans surely have at least some knowledge of this event…but relatively few are aware that there was an earlier amphibious assault on occupied Europe. The attack on the French port of Dieppe took place on August 19, 1942. The objectives were twofold. First, the attack was intended as kind of a “feasibility test” for the large-scale invasion which was to take place later. As stated by General Sir Alan Brooke, “If it was ever intended to invade France it was essential to launch a preliminary offensive on a divisional scale.” Second, the attack was intended to convince Hitler that an invasion was more imminent than it in fact was, thereby leading to the diversion of German forces from other areas.
The troops assigned to Dieppe were mostly Canadians–5000 of them. There were also British commandos and a small number of American Rangers. Eight destroyers were assigned to the operation, along with 74 Allied air squadrons.
The attack was a disastrous failure. In the words of military historian John Keegan: “When the badly shocked survivors of that terrible morning were got home and heads counted, only 2,110 of the 4.963 Canadians who had set sail the day before could be found. It became known later that 1,874 were prisoners, but of these 568 were wounded and 72 were to die of their wounds, while 378 of those returning were also wounded. Sixty-five percent of the Canadians engaged had therefore become casualties, almost all of them from the six assaulting infantry battalions, a toll which compared with that of July 1st, 1916, first day of the Battle of the Somme and blackest in the British army’s history. The 2nd Canadian Division had, for practical purposes, been destroyed…Strategic as well as human criteria applied in measuring the scale of the disaster. All the tanks which had been landed had been lost…lost also were 5 of the 10 precious Landing Craft Tank. And, auguring worst of all for the future, the damage had been done not by hastily summoned reinforcements, but by the forces already present; the 3 Canadian battalions which had stormed the central beach had been opposed by a singe German company–at odds, that is, of 12 to 1…” If one defending unit could stop an attacking force with 12 times the numbers, a successful invasion would be impossible. Keegan: “(the disparity between the power of the attack and the defense) clearly could not be overcome merely by increasing the numbers of those embarked for the assault. that would be to repeat the mistakes of the First World War, when the solution of greater numbers resulted arithmetically in greater casualties for no territorial gains.”
Captain (later Vice-Admiral) John Hughes-Hallett summarized the lessons of the failure in a report written shortly afer the fact. To quote Keegan once again: “‘The lesson of Greatest Importance,’ his report capitalized and italicized, “Is the need for overwhelming fire support, including close support, during the initial stages of the attack,’ It should be provided by ‘heavy and medium Naval bombardment, by air action, by special vessels or craft’ (which would have to be developed) ‘working close inshore, and by using the firepower of the assaulting troops while still seaborne.'”
The lessons of Dieppe were taken seriously. Keegan goes on to describe the naval firepower assigned to the actual D-day landings carried out by Canadians at Juno Beach: “Heaviest and furthest out were the two battleships Ramillies and Warspite…They both mounted four 15-inch guns and there were two more in Roberts, their accompanying monitor. Their chief task was to engage the large-calibre shore bateries between the Orne and the mouth of the Seine, but so great was their range–over eighteen miles–that they could in emergency be talked in on any target in the British bridgeheads…Immedeiately port and starboard of the lowering position was disposed a line of twelve cruisers, the smallest, like Diadem, mounting eight 5.25 inch guns, the largest, like Belfast, twelve 6-inch. Both were covering the Canadian beaches…In front of the Canadian lowering position manoeuvred the supporting destroyers, eleven for the Juno sector…And immediately in ahead of the assault-wave infantry was deployed a small fleet of support landing-craft: eight Landing Craft Gun, a sort of small monitor mounting two 4.7 inch guns; four Landing Craft Support, bristling with automatic cannon; eight Landing Craft tank (Rocket), on each of which were racked the tubes of 1,100 5-inch rockets, to be discharged in a single salvo; and eighteen Landing Craft Assault (Hedgerow), which were to fire their loads of twenty-four 60-lb bombs into the beach obstacles and so explode as many as possible of the mines attached to them.”
In addition to the need for very heavy naval firepower, the D-day planners learned another lesson from Dieppe: rather than immediately seizing a port, or landing in close proximity to one, they avoided ports altogether, landing supplies initially over an open beach and leaving the capture of a port for a later phase in the operation.
Keegan quotes are from his book, Six Armies in Normandy.
There is much talk in management and consulting circles these days about the need for organizations to “embrace failure”…much of this talk is fairly glib and does not always consider that certain kinds of failures are truly catastrophic from a human/strategic/economic point of view and are indeed worthy of stringent efforts to prevent their occurrence. When failures–catastrophic or otherwise–do occur, it is incumbent on responsible leadership to seriously analyze the lessons to be learned and to apply that knowledge diligently. In the case of Dieppe, that work does indeed appear to have been done.
Wednesday, May 31, 2017
YOU'VE READ ABOUT 3D PRINTING...HERE'S 3D KNITTING
Benefits of this approach compared with the traditional process include better fit, reduced fabric waste (indeed, the process starts with yarn rather than with fabric), elimination of seams for better durability, and avoidance of inventory vs demand mismatches. OTOH, the machine is priced at $190,000 and for a store with high volumes, several of them are going to be required. I’m not sure whether this will be only a niche product/service or whether it heralds the beginning of a sea change in the traditional cut-and-sew method of apparel production…surely something that will come sooner or later, with vast consequences.
This innovation reminded me of a story from pre-industrial-revolution days. In 1589, an Englishman named William Lee invented a device called the stocking frame, which aimed to greatly improve the productivity of knitting the material for the stockings that were then in vogue. According to a common story, he was motivated to create the machine because when he came to call on a girl he was sweet on, she persisted in paying more attention to her knitting than to him. So his intent was either (a) free up her time so she would have more (hopefully) for him, or (b) get revenge on her for rejecting him. (I’d rather think he was naive (version A) than vicious (version B))
He then arranged to demonstrate the machine to Queen Elizabeth, hoping for a patent. In one version of the story, she expressed disappointment that the machine was only good for wool and told him to come back when it could also handle silk…which enhancement he was indeed able to accomplish. In any case, Elizabeth ultimately rejected the device because of concerns about technological unemployment:
Thou aimest high, Master Lee. Consider thou what the invention could do to my poor subjects. It would assuredly bring to them ruin by depriving them of employment, thus making them beggars.
The inventor moved to France and was there granted a patent by Henry IV…he began successful manufacturing of stockings in Rouen, but the King’s assassination in 1610 made the political climate for the venture untenable. William Lee lived out the rest of his life in poverty. It appears that in the late 1600s an improved version of the machine was re-introduced to England by Huguenot refugees from France, this time successfully, and further improvements were made over time, including the ability of the machines to work with cotton. These improved versions were however too expensive for most artisans to purchase on their own, and they were generally rented out by the same entrepreneurs who provided the framework knitters with their raw materials and purchased their resultant product.
An interesting article on William Lee and his machine here.
Friday, May 26, 2017
(Worthwhile but not very cheerful reading, for the most part, I’m afraid)
Bookworm links a carefully-reasoned Victor Davis Hanson about Trump and the accusations being made against him, and contrasts it with “the incoherent rage attack visited upon a conservative friend of mine via a series of text messages from one of the parents in his children’s community.”
Manchester and the lies we tell ourselves about terrorism. A good piece, though I would question to use of the word “we” in the title–the intellectual fallacies described in the post are held by a set of people comprising less than 50% of the population…but still, a set of people with considerable power and influence.
In Robert Heinlein’s 1952 story The Year of the Jackpot, a statistician observes many simultaneous indicators suggesting that the society is going totally insane. Young women are removing all their clothes in public, but can’t explain why they are doing it. A man has sued an entire state legislature for alienation of his wife’s affections–and the judge is letting the suit be tried. In another state, a bill has been introduced to repeal the laws of atomic energy–not the relevant statutes, but the natural laws concerning nuclear physics.
Hopefully I’ll be able to post some more encouraging links for the next roundup…
Monday, May 22, 2017
INTELLECTUALS AND TOTALITARIAN DICTATORS
Theodore Dalrymple reviews Paul Hollander’s book about the attraction felt by many intellectuals toward dictators and toward totalitarian systems of government. There are certainly plenty of academics, writers, and journalists who have fallen and continue to fall into this pattern, with the objects of their affections including Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, and Hugo Chavez.
I’m reminded of something Aldous Huxley wrote:
In the field of politics the equivalent of a theorem is a perfectly disciplined army; of a sonnet or picture, a police state under a dictatorship. The Marxist calls himself scientific and to this claim the Fascist adds another: he is the poet–the scientific poet–of a new mythology. Both are justified in their pretensions; for each applies to human situations the procedures which have proved effective in the laboratory and the ivory tower. They simplify, they abstract, they eliminate all that, for their purposes, is irrelevant and ignore whatever they choose to regard an inessential; they impose a style, they compel the facts to verify a favorite hypothesis, they consign to the waste paper basket all that, to their mind, falls short of perfection…the dream of Order begets tyranny, the dream of Beauty, monsters and violence.
I haven’t seen any actual quantitative data demonstrating that intellectuals are more likely to support totalitarian dictators than are, say, bricklayers or physicians…maybe we just notice them more…but it does seem that way. At a bare minimum, I think it’s fair to say that intellectualism, as it has developed in the West over the past century, does not provide much of a shield against the totalitarian temptation.
Arthur Koestler, himself a former Communist, wrote about the mental world of the Closed System:
Monday, May 15, 2017
WORTHWHILE READING, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY EDITION
See my post at Chicago Boyz
Thursday, May 11, 2017
INTIMIDATION, CONFORMITY, AND COWARDICE IN AMERICAN ACADEMIA
I have previously mentioned an incident described in the memoirs of Tom Watson Jr, longtime CEO of IBM.
There was a moment when I truly thought IBM was going to lose its shot at defense work because of the kind of window blinds I had in my office.
These were vertical blinds, which were not common at the time. An engineer who was in Watson’s office for a meeting made a sketch of the blinds, and inadvertently left it in his shirt pocket when he took the shirt to the dry cleaner. The laundry man thought the paper looked suspicious, and sent it to Senator McCarthy. Pretty soon, a group of investigators came and said to the engineer, “We’ve identified this as a plan for a radar antenna, and want to hear about it. We want to be perfectly fair. But we know it is a radar antenna and the shirt it was found in belongs to you.”
The engineer explained about the vertical blinds, and the investigation team then asked to see Watson. The chief executive officer of IBM showed them the blinds and demonstrated the way they worked.
They looked them over very carefully and then left. I thought I had contained it, but I wasn’t sure, and I was scared. We were working on SAGE (the computerized air defense system–ed) and it would have been a hell of a way to lose our security clearance.
Shortly after the incident with the vertical blinds, Watson was invited to a lunch at Lehman Brothers, along with about 20 other high-ranking businesspeople. During the lunch, he mentioned his concerns about McCarthyism:
Of the twenty-odd people present, I was the only one who took that position. That didn’t bother me. What bothered me was that the following week I got letters from several people who had been there, and they all had a similar message: “I didn’t want to commit myself in public, but I certainly agreed with everything you said.”
I was reminded of this story once again by the current academic ragestorm involving the work of Professor Rebecca Tuvel. And, just as with Watson’s experience during the McCarthy era, what is particularly disturbing is that there are apparently a lot of people who don’t like what has been happening…but are afraid to say so.
And who is Professor Tuvel and what is the ragestorm about, you may ask? Tuvel is an assistant professor of philosophy at Memphis College; you can see her teaching and research interests at the link. Recently she published an article entitled “In Defense of Transracialism” in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy. A writer at Inside Higher Ed summarizes:
The article explores whether there might be parallels between being transgender and being transracial, focusing specifically on the well-known case of Rachel Dolezal, who is white but presented herself as black for many years.
Tuvel’s argument is that the very same reasons that might justify an individual’s decision to change sexes could also be used to justify an individual’s decision to change races — so if one is committed to the acceptability of the former (as Tuvel herself is), then one would be committed to the acceptability of the latter.
And then the ragestorm broke:
Shortly after the paper was published in the spring 2017 edition of Hypatia, an open letter with signatures but no author appeared on the internet soliciting further signatures. The letter called for Tuvel’s paper to be retracted by the journal, stating that “its continued availability causes further harm.”
This open letter is now closed to further signatures and has been sent to the editor of Hypatia. While the open letter was still circulating, a statement appeared on the Hypatia website repudiating the article and making multiple references to the harms caused by the article’s publication. The statement has no signatures but is credited to “A majority of the Hypatia board of associate editors.”
“The harms caused by the article’s publication” sounds like an argument that would have been made by the Inquisition in support of burning someone at the stake for unauthorized theological writing, or the arguments that were frequently made by Nazi and Soviet courts when calling for the execution of those who had disseminated forbidden political and social views.
A recent New York Magazine article, This is what a modern-day witch hunt looks like, argues that many of the assertions by Tuvel’s ‘critics’ (way too mild a word in this context) are based on a mischaracterization of what she actually wrote. And this piece asserts that the over-the-top reaction has caused serious damage to Tuvel’s career…”How can Prof. Tuvel, for example, now use this repudiated but allegedly peer-reviewed article as part of her tenure process? Indeed, how can her department or college support her for tenure when she has been so vilified as a scholar and professional by people who work in her fields?”…and suggests that these attacks may rise to the level of defamation in the legal sense.
My main concern here is not whether Tuvel’s work is good or bad (read it for yourself here, if you’re so inclined, not sure how much longer it will stay up before the bit-burners get it)…indeed, I question the value of the whole subdiscipline encompassing this work and that of many of its critics), but the vitriolic tone of the attacks which in my view clearly inhibit intellectual exploration and and the ability to freely and (individually or collectively) play with ideas…which things are supposed to be primary reasons for the existence of academia…in favor of the dead hand of conformity. And what is particularly disturbing…and closely echoes Tom Watson’s experiences during the McCarthy era…is this:
continued at Chicago Boyz
Friday, May 05, 2017
HOW TO GET A COMPLEX/TECHNICAL BILL THROUGH A LEGISLATURE
In 1751, Lord Chesterfield decided that the time had come for England to switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. In a letter to his son, he explained how he got this done:
I consulted the best lawyers and the most skillful astronomers, and we cooked up a bill for that purpose. But then my difficulty began: I was to bring in this bill, which was necessarily composed of law jargon and astronomical calculations, to both which I am an utter stranger. However, it was absolutely necessary to make the House of Lords think that I knew something of the matter; and also to make them believe that they knew something of it themselves, which they do not. For my own part, I could just as soon have talked Celtic or Sclavonian to them as astronomy, and they would have understood me full as well: so I resolved to do better than speak to the purpose, and to please instead of informing them. I gave them, therefore, only an historical account of calendars, from the Egyptian down to the Gregorian, amusing them now and then with little episodes; but I was particularly attentive to the choice of my words, to the harmony and roundness of my periods, to my elocution, to my action. This succeeded, and ever will succeed; they thought I informed, because I pleased them; and many of them said that I had made the whole very clear to them; when, God knows, I had not even attempted it. Lord Macclesfield, who had the greatest share in forming the bill, and who is one of the greatest mathematicians and astronomers in Europe, spoke afterward with infinite knowledge, and all the clearness that so intricate a matter would admit of: but as his words, his periods, and his utterance, were not near so good as mine, the preference was most unanimously, though most unjustly, given to me.
Thursday, May 04, 2017
Then it hit me. The new American myth, carefully constructed by the SJWs and their ilk, is that farmers are stupid. Mechanics are dumb. Plumbers only ply their trade because they are too stupid to take gender studies courses. And since they are all idiots, of course their children must be idiots too. Indeed, they are all far too stupid to be permitted a say in how their own lives are run.
Saturday, April 29, 2017
OXYTOCIN AND CONFORMITY - PUBLIC AND PRIVATE
An interesting article by Robert Sapolsky distinguishes between public conformity, in which subjects change their opinions to be more agreeable to the crowd, and private conformity, where the individual actually adopts the crowd’s opinion as his own.
Sapolsky describes a classic experiment for studying conformity, in which solitary subjects are first asked something with an obvious answer such as, “Here’s a line. Which of these three other lines is it closest to in length?” Then a subject is asked the question which amid a group of other “participants,” actually confederates of the researcher who have been instructed to give a unanimously wrong answer. When these false answers were given first, the real study subjects would agree with that answer up to three-quarters of the time.
Neuroscience research suggests that “the discovery that everyone disagrees with you turns out to typically activate the amygdala and the insular cortex, brain regions associated with anxiety, disgust, and unease.”
In another experiment, which involved watching a documentary and then being quizzed about it, subjects were divided into two groups. One group was administered oxytocin, the so-called ‘cuddling hormone,’ which is said to promote bonding and affiliation in couples and also among social groups. The other experimental group got a placebo. Among the placebo group, about 2/3 conformed to the crowd opinion…but of these, about half reverted to the correct answer when they were on their own again. Among those who got oxytocin, there was a 15% increase in the rate of public conforming, but no increase in the rate of private conforming.
I’m not sure how definitive a 15% increase really is given the sample size of only 92 subjects, but it is consistent with what has been frequently claimed about the effects of oxytocin. It is slightly comforting (again, to the extent that these results are validate-able) that the increase in public conformity does not drive a corresponding increase in private conformity. Only slightly comforting, though–the mob can still burn you at the stake for witchcraft even though most of its members privately believe that there is no such thing.)
This is obviously connected to the idea of the preference cascade. Failure to understand this concept is surely one reason why Hillary Clinton and her minions were so taken aback by Donald Trump’s presidential victory.
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Millions of U.S. parents have taken out loans from the government to help their children pay for college. Now a crushing bill is coming due. Hundreds of thousands have tumbled into delinquency and default. In the process, many have delayed retirement, put off health expenses and lost portions of Social Security checks and tax refunds to their lender, the federal government…“This credit is being extended on terms that specifically, willfully ignore their ability to repay,” says Toby Merrill of Harvard Law School’s Legal Services Center. “You can’t avoid that we’re targeting high-cost, high-dollar-amount loans to people who we know can’t afford to repay them.”
We already knew, of course, that many former students are suffering under the burden of their student loans for years and decades, and that the problem is so common and so severe that it is impacting major purchases of things like houses and cars, and probably also marriages and business formations. The article indicates that in many cases the exploding costs of higher education are devastating their parents as well.