Monday, July 28, 2014
JULY 28, 1914
100 years ago today, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, marking the start of the First World War.
100 years ago today…the middle ages ended. The Empire of Austria-Hungary, with a pedigree stretching back nearly 1000 years, (remember that the Duchy of Austria was created by Emperor Otto III in AD 996, the Kingdom of Hungary in AD1000), declared war on the Kingdom of Serbia (established AD1217, conquered by the Ottomans in AD1459, and reestablished in AD1882), and starting the first world war.
By 1918, Three of the 4 big monarchies in Europe, Austria, Russia, and Germany, were gone. The British survived, but began to yield it’s global supremacy to the USA.
The old European civilization, and it’s notions of societal order, hierarchy, and supremacy, were all overthrown.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz
, where comments are open
MONEY, POLITICS, MEDIA, AND ACADEMIA
Much discussion lately about money and politics—about contributions in-kind, not so much.
As is well-known, the mass media in general slants Left. Importantly, this is not only the case with explicit news and opinion shows (vizBob Simon’s 60 Minutes smear against Israel), but also more indirectly, in the case of messages–subtle or otherwise–contained in fictional TV programs and films. To take one example out of many, HBO managed to work a slam against Republicans in general, and Ted Cruz in particular, into a vampire movie. And, of course, many prominent newspapers transmit left-aligned messages in virtually all sections of the paper, from the front page through the Style section.
It would be difficult to put a financial value on the in-kind contributions being made by the media to the Democratic Party and the Left in general, but surely to purchase equivalent coverage at commercial ad rates would run into the multiple billions of dollars, probably the tens of billions. Additional in-kind contributions to the cause on the Left are being made by many academics, who choose to use their taxpayer-and-tuition-provided salaries and classrooms for political preaching or at least subtle brand-promotion activities.
Placing tight restrictions on explicit political contributions would have the effect of further increasing the power–greatly further increasing the power–of those institutions which are in a position to directly conduct political speech….those who own a microphone instead of having to pay for access to one.
It occurs to me that the Left is attempting to create a system wherein there are two different classes of citizenship, one fully possessed of its right to speak and act politically, the other whose rights in this regard are sharply curtailed. . . .
The Left, were it to have its way, would forbid anyone who is not primarily in the business of politics (or working for the government or university) from exercising their full political rights. If you work in any other industry, your rights are substantially reduced. . . .The only people who would be permitted to speak on political issues, or at in accordance with their social/cultural/religious/political principles, would be the Political Class Itself, which is of course largely “progressive.”
The government really needs to get its message out to the American people, and it knows that the best way to do that is by using the American news media,” said Shanker. “The relationship between the government and the media is like a marriage; it is a dysfunctional marriage to be sure, but we stay together for the kids.”
How do you feel about being considered as a child under the parental authority of media-company employees and government officials such as Obama’s State Department spokesidiot Jen Psaki? Want to see these people effectively given more even more power than they already have?
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
COOL VIDEO OF A CNC MACHINE TOOL AT WORK
Here’s a motorcycle helmet of fairly complex design being fabricated out of a single block of aluminum by a computer-numerically-controlled machine tool:
There’s been a lot of excitement lately about 3-D printing, and rightly so, but the hype level in some quarters may be getting a little extreme. I think a lot of journalists lack an appropriate context into which to put this emerging technology, and, in particular, fail to understand just how much flexibility and universality is already provided by the numerically-controlled machine tools which have been in common use for the last several decades.
Sunday, July 20, 2014
WORDS AND PHRASES I DISLIKE: "MIDDLE-SKILLED JOBS"
WSJ has a good article about three people who have put themselves on good career trajectories without benefit of 4-year college degrees. One is a welder, one is a nurse, and one is an owner of franchised fast-food restaurants. Unfortunately, however, the article uncritically uses the term “middle-skilled jobs,” which is seen increasingly in articles about the job market. These jobs are said to be those which require more than high school and less than four years of college, and typically involve some sort of technical or practical training.
“Middle-skilled”….really? Is the job of a toolmaker in a factory really less-skilled than the entry-level job likely to be obtained by someone with an undergraduate Sociology degree? Is a nurse’s job less-skilled than the work likely to be assigned to someone hired on the basis of his English degree? Does owning and operating a food truck really require less skill than the kind of tasks typically assigned to an undergraduate Business major? Is the work of an air traffic controller less-skilled than the kind of a job likely to result from a major in Victim Studies?
It is good that there is increasing recognition of good career paths not requiring college degrees; however, the term “Middle-Skilled Jobs” is misleading and contributes to the continuation of credential-worship.
Friday, July 18, 2014
WORDS AND PHRASES I DISLIKE: "CONTROLS X PERCENT"
…as in, “Universal Entities controls 73% of the Gerbilator market.”
Uh, no, actually they probably don’t. IBM once had something like 70% of the market for computer hardware, software, and services. The big integrated steel companies, Bethlehem Steel and US Steel, once had a very high share of the American steel market. Sears once had a high share of the retail market. These examples could be multiplied easily and almost endlessly.
A seller into a market does not control that market, or its position in that market, absent direct violence (the Mafia and various drug cartels, for example) or heavy government intervention–and even the latter is unlikely to be reliable in the long term, as the owners of TV station licenses facing first cable competition, and later Internet competition as well, found out, and as the owners of taxicab franchises facing Uber and similar competition are now discovering.
The phrase “controls X percent,” when applied to a market, is almost always intellectually lazy, and is used far too often by writers who should know better.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
WORDS AND PHRASES I DISLIKE: "HUMANITARIAN CRISIS"
It’s all over the media, almost all the time, and a pretty weird phrase, if you think about it. Actually, the flood or hurricane or earthquake or war or refugee crisis isn’t first and foremost a crisis for humanitarians. The crisis may impose some additional stress on humanitarian organizations that are trying to help (or at least to attract contributions), but the floor or hurricane or whatever is primarily a crisis for its victims.
It is a very narcissistic way of talking/thinking about things, and I’m afraid the almost universal employment of this phrase says something about out society.
Saturday, July 12, 2014
NAUTICAL BOOK REVIEW: THE CRUEL COAST
In an early morning in May 1944, the German submarine U-234 is cruising on the surface in heavy fog. The bored lookouts are startled fully awake by the sight of a British corvette heading directly for them at full speed, 4-inch gun crashing and 20-millimeter cannon hammering. The corvette rams the submarine about 30 feet from the bow, hitting hard and doing major damage.
The submarine manages to disengage from its British pursuer and find temporary safety in the fog, only because the corvette also has suffered from serious damage. But the effects of the ramming make it impossible for U-234 to submerge, and Captain Ludtke knows that his expected lifetime on the surface, in an Atlantic dominated by Allied air and naval forces, is quite short. He resolves to put in at sparsely-populated Spanish Island, off the coast of Ireland, and attempt to repair his U-boat.
To the people of Spanish Island, U-234′s arrival is like the appearance of a spaceship. The inhabitants are mostly fishermen, all living without much in the way of luxuries or possessions, isolated from the mainland except for the weekly visits of an old steamer, the Kerry Queen. Ireland is of course neutral in the Second World War, but the people of have an inherited anger against Britain and hence have pro-German inclinations, carried over from the First World War without much thought. The only person on Spanish who has a real sense of the issues in the present war is Nora Berkeley, a college graduate who lived for several years on the island after becoming orphaned as a child. She is now on Spanish to visit her grandmother, Lady Maud. Nora loves the people of Spanish and feels protective toward them; she does not like the Nazis and does not like submarine warfare—”How can they be honorable, and torpedo defenseless merchant ships?”
U-234′s captain is Gerhard Ludtke. He is a very successful submarine commander, holder of the Iron Cross, and his greatest ambition is to add the Oak Leaves…the ultimate award for military valor and success…to this decoration. Ludtke’s father surrendered a battleship to Bolshevik mutineers in the chaotic days following the end of WWI, and Ludtke’s own life has been largely driven by a strong need to redeem this strongly-felt disgrace.
The submarine’s First Officer is Kurt Riegel—a devout Nazi, and with the kind of personality one might expect of such an individual–Riegel is arrogant, dramatic, quick to cast blame on others when anything goes wrong. The Engineering Officer, Peter Hoffman, is a very different sort of individual–quiet, with a “shy, tilted smile.” Once a violinist and an avid skier, Hoffman was deeply affected by the death of his wife Erika, who was killed in an air raid. His considerable capacity for loyalty and devotion is now directed toward the crew of U-234; indeed, his sense of responsibility toward the submarine’s crew parallels Nora Berkeley’s feelings toward the people of Spanish Island.
Most of the people on Spanish are initially enthusiastic about the submarine’s presence and eagerly volunteer to help with the necessary repair work. But Peter Hoffman quickly determines that submerged operation will only be possible if they can procure certain electrical parts which are by no means available on the island. Captain Ludtke initially considers radioing for a Luftwaffe air drop, but realizes that any transmission would probably be intercepted and triangulated by the British. He resolves to send Hoffman to the mainland by fishing boat to buy or steal the necessary equipment, with two strong islanders to do the rowing and Nora Berkeley as a guide. Ludtke overcomes Nora’s objections by telling her that if the sub doesn’t get repaired quickly he will may be able to control his men, and some of the island women are likely to be raped…moreover, he warns, if the sub is still there when the Kerry Queen arrives on her weekly trip, he will blow the steamer out of the water.
Hoffman and Nora Berkeley and the two islanders make their way to the mainland without incident, with Nora harboring a secret intent to slip away and notify the police about the sub’s presence in Irish waters. They borrow a car and begin a tour of electrical distributors and power stations, with Peter looking for circuit breakers and battery acid that he can acquire and Nora looking for an opportunity to get away and go for the police.
But as they become acquainted, talking among other things about music and their childhoods (“Things did not seem to have been greatly different at Wassenburg Akademie and the St Brigid Convent School”), a strong mutual attraction grows up between Nora and Peter. Nora now has a three-way dilemma: Keep harm from coming to the people of Spanish, keep U-234 from returning to the fight, and keep Peter Hoffman alive until the end of the war.
The author has done a good job in portraying the two closed worlds of the islanders and the submariners and in building the action of the story around the collision of these worlds. This book would have made…still could make…an excellent movie, with lots of opportunities for good visuals and good acting.
Long out of print, but a fair number of used copies are available.
Wednesday, July 09, 2014
THOUGHTS ON THE POLITICIZATION OF ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING
One reason why American political dialog has become so unpleasant is that increasingly, everything is a political issue. Matters that are life-and-death to individuals…metaphorically life-and-death, to his financial future or the way he wants to live his life, or quite literally life-and-death…are increasingly grist for the political mill. And where that takes us is that:
People who disagree with your agenda are “attacking” you or “robbing” you. How commonly do you hear dissent described in precisely those terms nowadays?
When the government controls everything, there is no constructive relief valve for all this pent-up tension. It all boils down to a “historic” election once every couple of years, upon whose outcome everything depends. They’re all going to be “historic” elections from now on. That’s not a good thing. (link)
I’m reminded of something Arthur Koestler wrote, in his great novel Darkness at Noon. Rubashov, the protagonist, is a dedicated Communist who has been arrested during the Stalin purges of the 1930s. (Although Stalin is never named in the novel, he is only referred to as “Number One.”) During the interval between his arrest and his execution, Rubashov has plenty of time for thought and reflection:
A short time ago, our leading agriculturist, B., was shot with thirty of his collaborators because he maintained the opinion that nitrate artificial manure was superior to potash. No. 1 is all for potash; therefore B. and the thirty had to be liquidated as saboteurs. In a nationally centralized agriculture, the alternative of nitrate of potash is of enormous importance: it can decide the issue of the next war. If No. I was in the right, history will absolve him, and the execution of the thirty-one men will be a mere bagatelle. If he was wrong…
Rubashov of course was incorrect in his assertion that “If No. I was in the right, history will absolve him, and the execution of the thirty-one men will be a mere bagatelle”…even if the dictator had been correct on this specific issue, the system of top-down rule and suppression of dissent absolutely ensured that there would be other issues, with potential for equally or even more disastrous outcomes, on which he would be wrong, and his wrongness would guarantee catastrophe.
When everything is centralized, the temptation to deal with dissent in a draconian manner becomes overwhelming. Just as Rubashov (at that stage in his thought process) justified Stalin’s ruthless suppression of dissenters on agricultural policy, so do many American “progressives” today seek the silencing of those who disagree with their ideas. It will not be surprising if they escalate their demands to insist that dissenters should not only lose their jobs or be imprisoned, but should actually be killed.
Friday, July 04, 2014
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?
Thursday, July 03, 2014
One of the many tragedies of the World War II era was a heartbreakingly fratricidal affair known as the Battle of Mers-el-Kebir.
I’ve written before about the defeat of France in 1940 and the political, social, and military factors behind this disaster. Following the resignation of Paul Reynaud on June 16, the premiership was assumed by the First World War hero Philippe Petain, who immediately asked the Germans for an armistice. With an eye toward revenge, Hitler chose the Forest of Compiegne…the same place where the armistice ending the earlier war had been executed…as the venue for the signing of the documents. Indeed, he insisted that the ceremonies take place in the very same railroad car that had been employed 22 years earlier.
The armistice provided that Germany would occupy and directly control about 3/5 of France, while the remainder of the country, together with its colonies, would remain nominally “free” under the Petain government. (One particularly noxious provision of the agreement required that France hand over all individuals who had been granted political asylum–especially German nationals.)
Winston Churchill and other British leaders were quite concerned about the future role of the powerful French fleet…although French admiral Darlan had assured Churchill that the fleet would not be allowed to fall into German hands, it was far from clear that it was safe to base the future of Britain–and of the world–on this assurance. Churchill resolved that the risks of leaving the French fleet in Vichy hands were too high, and that it was necessary that this fleet join the British cause, be neutralized, be scuttled, or be destroyed.
The strongest concentration of French warships, encompassing four battleships and six destroyers, was the squadron at Mers-el-Kebir in French Algeria. On July 3, a powerful British force under the command of Admiral James Somerville confronted the French fleet with an ultimatum. The French commander, Admiral Jean-Bruno Gensoul, was given the following alternatives:
(a) Sail with us and continue the fight until victory against the Germans.
(b) Sail with reduced crews under our control to a British port. The reduced crews would be repatriated at the earliest moment.
If either of these courses is adopted by you we will restore your ships to France at the conclusion of the war or pay full compensation if they are damaged meanwhile.
(c) Alternatively if you feel bound to stipulate that your ships should not be used against the Germans unless they break the Armistice, then sail them with us with reduced crews to some French port in the West Indies — Martinique for instance — where they can be demilitarised to our satisfaction, or perhaps be entrusted to the United States and remain safe until the end of the war, the crews being repatriated.
If you refuse these fair offers, I must with profound regret, require you to sink your ships within 6 hours.
Finally, failing the above, I have the orders from His Majesty’s Government to use whatever force may be necessary to prevent your ships from falling into German hands.
The duty of delivering this ultimatum was assigned to the French-speaking Captain Cedric Holland, commander of the aircraft carrier Ark Royal.
Robert Philpott, a trainee gunnery officer on the battleship Hood: ”Really it was all very peaceful. Nobody was doing any firing; there was a fairly happy mood on board. We all firmly believed that the ships would come out and join us. We know the French sailors were just anxious to get on with the war. So we didn’t think there would be a great problem.”
André Jaffre, an 18-year-old gunner on the battleship Bregagne: ”Our officer scrutinizes the horizon, then looks for his binoculars and smiles. What is it, captain? The British have arrived! Really? Yes. We were happy! We thought they’d come to get us to continue fighting against the Nazis.”
Gensoul contacted his superior, Admiral Darlan. Both men were incensed by the British ultimatum: Gensoul was also personally offended that the British had sent a mere captain to negotiate with him, and Darlan was offended that Churchill did not trust his promise about keeping the French fleet out of German hands. Darlan sent a message–intercepted by the British–directing French reinforcements to Mers-al-Kebir, and the British could observe the French ships preparing for action. All this was reported to Churchill, who sent a brief message: Settle matters quickly. Somerville signaled the French flagship that if agreement were not reached within 30 minutes, he would open fire.
It appears that one of the the options in the British ultimatum–the option of removing the fleet to American waters–was not transmitted by Gensoul to Admiral Darlan. Whether or not this would have made a difference, we cannot know.
As Captain Holland saluted the Tricolor preparatory to stepping back into his motor launch, there were tears in his eyes. Almost immediately, Admiral Somerville gave the order to fire to open fire.
Wednesday, July 02, 2014
BLOOD ON THE TRACKS
On January 6, 1996, Washington Metrorail train T-111 departed the Rockville (MD) station northbound. Operating under automatic control as was standard practice, the train accelerated to a speed of 75 mph, and then began slowing for a station stop at Shady Grove. The speed was still too great for the icy rail conditions, however, and T-111 slid into a stopped train at the station, killing the driver.
What happened? I think the answer to this question is relevant not only to the specific topics of mass transit and railroad safety, but also to the more general issues of manual and automatic operation in system design, and perhaps even to the architecture of organizations and political systems.
Saturday, June 28, 2014
JUNE 28, 1914
A century ago today, the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, along with his wife Sophie, lighting the fuse that would soon ignite the First World War.
Here is a British project which invites people to send a time-traveling letter to the young WWI soldier whose bronze likeness stands at Paddington Station.
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
BOOK REVIEW: THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH
C S Lewis
This was the first thing Mark had been asked to do which he himself, before he did it, clearly knew to be criminal. But the moment of his consent almost escaped his notice; certainly, there was no struggle, no sense of turning a corner. There may have been a time in the world’s history when such moments fully revealed their gravity, with witches prophesying on a blasted heath or visible Rubicons to be crossed. But, for him, it all slipped past in a chatter of laughter, of that intimate laughter between fellow professionals, which of all earthly powers is strongest to make men do very bad things before they are yet, individually, very bad men.
Mark Studdock is a young on-the-make sociologist, a professor at Bracton College, in an English town called Edgestow. He is is far more interested in university politics than in his research or teaching. and as a member of the “progressive element” at the college, he strongly supports Bracton selling a tract of property to a government-sponsored entity called NICE. The NICE is the National Institute for Coordinated Experimentation,which Lewis describes as “the first fruits of that constructive fusion between the state and the laboratory on which so many thoughtful people base their hopes of a better world.” What excites Mark most about the NICE is this:
The real thing is that this time we’re going to get science applied to social problems and backed by the whole force of the state, just as war has been backed by the whole force of the state in the past. One hopes, of course, that it’ll find out more than the old freelance science did, but what’s certain is that it can do more.
Trigger Warning: There is something in this book to offend almost everybody. It contains things that will offend technologists and believers in human progress…social scientists…feminists…academic administrators…bioscience researchers…and surely many other categories of people. It will probably also offend some Christians, for the way in which Christian theology is mixed with non-Christian magic. By the standards now becoming current in American universities, this book, and even this book review, should be read by no one at all. But for those who do not accept those standards…
The Basic Story. Mark has recently married Jane, a woman with strong literary interests and with vague plans for getting an advanced degree. She has recently started having disturbing, indeed terrifying, dreams, which suggest that she has a clairvoyant ability to see distant events in real time. Afraid that she is losing her mind, Jane seeks advice, and is told that her dreams are actually visions, they are very real, will not stop, and are of utmost importance:
Young lady,” said Miss Ironwood, “You do not at all realize the seriousness of this matter. The things you have seen concern something compared with which the happiness, and even the life, of you and me, is of no importance.”
Miss Ironwood warns Jane that extremely evil people will seek to use her gift, and that she would do well–both for her own interests and those of the entire human race–to join the community of which Miss Ironwood is a part, located at a place called St Anne’s. Jane responds quite negatively to the invitation, afraid that membership in the St Anne’s group will limit her autonomy. She is not interested in the dreams’ meaning; she just wants them to go away.
Mark, on the other hand, responds enthusiastically when he is invited to take a position at the NICE, temporarily located at an old manor called Belbury. One of the first people he meets there is the Head of the Institutional Police, a woman named Miss Hardcastle (picture Janet Napolitano), nicknamed the Fairy, who explains to Mark her theory of crime and punishment:
“Here in the Institute, we’re backing the crusade against Red Tape.” Mark gathered that, for the Fairy, the police side of the Institute was the really important side…In general, they had already popularized in the press the idea that the Institute should be allowed to experiment pretty largely in the hope of discovering how far humane, remedial treatment could be substituted for the old notion of “retributive” or “vindictive” punishment…The Fairy pointed out that what had hampered every English police force up to date was precisely the idea of deserved punishment. For desert was always finite; you could do so much to the criminal and no more. Remedial treatment, on the other hand, need have no fixed limit; it could go on till it had effected a cure, and those who were carrying it out would decide when that was. And if cure were humane and desirable, how much more prevention? Soon anyone who had ever been in the hands of the police at all would come under the control of the NICE; in the end, every citizen.
Another person Mark meets in his first days at Belbury is the acclaimed chemist William Hingest…who has also come down to investigate the possibility of a job at Belbury, has decided against it, and strongly advises Mark to do likewise:
“I came down here because I thought it had something to do with science. Now that I find it’s something more like a political conspiracy, I shall go home. I’m to old for that kind of thing, and if I wanted to join a conspiracy, this one wouldn’t be my choice.”
“You mean, I suppose, that the element of social planning doesn’t appeal to you? I can quite understand that it doesn’t fit in with your work as it does with sciences like Sociology, but–”
“There are no sciences like Sociology. And if I found chemistry beginning to fit in with a secret police run by a middle-aged virago who doesn’t wear corsets and a scheme for taking away his farm and his shop and his children from every Englishman, I’d let chemistry go to the devil and take up gardening again…I happen to believe that you can’t study men, you can only get to know them, which is quite a different thing. Because you study them, you want to make the lower orders govern the country and listen to classical music, which is balderdash. You also want to take away from them everything that makes life worth living and not only from them but from everyone except a parcel of prigs and professors.”
Nevertheless, Mark decides to remain at Belbury, and is drawn ever-deeper into its activities–which, as only those in the innermost circles of that organization realize, are not only consistent with the goals of the 20th-century totalitarianisms, but go considerably beyond them. The NICE seeks to establish a junction between the powers of modern science and those of ancient magic, accessing the latter by awakening the medieval wizard Merlin and using him for their purposes. At the same time, Jane–despite her reservations–becomes increasingly involved with the company at St Anne’s and is entranced with its leader, a Mr Fisher-King. (His name comes from the Wounded King in Arthurian legend.) The St Anne’s group is aware of the truth about NICE and its ultimate goals, and exists for the primary purpose of opposing and, hopefully, destroying that organization.
I will not here describe the war between the forces of Belbury and those of St Anne’s (in order to avoid spoilers), but will instead comment on the characters of some of the protagonists and some philosophically-significant events in the novel, with appropriate excerpts. Hopefully this will be enough to give a sense of the worldview that Lewis is presenting in this book.
Mark Studdock .His character is largely defined by his strong desire to be a member of the Inner Circle, whatever that inner circle may be in a particular context. The passage at the start of this review where Mark agrees to engage in criminal activity on Belbury’s behalf is proceeded by this:
After a few evenings Mark ventured to walk into the library on his own; a little uncertain of his reception, yet afraid that if he did not soon assert his right to the entree this modesty might damage him. He knew that the error in either direction is equally fatal.
It was a success. Before he had closed the door behind him all had turned with welcoming faces and Filostrato had said “Ecco ” and the Fairy, “Here’s the very man.” A glow of pleasure passed over Mark’s whole body.
That “glow of pleasure” at being accepted by the Belbury’s Inner Circle (what Mark then thinks is Belbury’s Inner Circle) is strong enough to overcome any moral qualms on Mark’s part about the actions he is being requested to perform. Lewis has written a great deal elsewhere about the lust for the Inner Circle, which in his view never leads to satisfaction but only to a longing for membership in another, still-more-inner circle. In That Hideous Strength, there are concentric Inner Circles at Belbury, which Mark does penetrate–and each is more sinister than the last.
Sunday, June 22, 2014
THE POLITICAL IMPACT OF CULTURAL TECHNOLOGY
It was observed by Andrew Breitbart that politics is downstream from culture.
Related: this Grim’s Hall review of the movie Maleficent, a new version of Sleeping Beauty. The reviewer connects the implicit cultural messages of the move with the reaction of the Obama administration and its supporters to the Benghazi debacle.
Glenn Reynolds said today that “Personally, I don’t think we’ll fix America’s political problems until we fix its media problem.”
Saturday, June 21, 2014
A SWEDISH NEO-CONSERVATIVE WRITES ABOUT AMERICA
Read her thoughts & observations, here.
Annika has been a leader in support of Israel and against Swedish anti-Semitism. Link
Thursday, June 19, 2014
HEROISM IN AMERICA, THEN AND NOW
Bookworm posts about America’s cultural journey from an age in which the heroism of Audie Murphy was widely recognized to one in which Bowie Bergdahl is referred to by a senior Administration official as having served with “honor and distinction.” With references to George MacDonald Fraser’s excellent WWII memoir, Quartered Safe Out Here and thoughts about the Oprah-ization of America.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Monday, June 16, 2014
THE ROBOTICIZATION OF CUSTOMER SERVICE
(Ran into this 2006 post while searching for an old Photon Courier post, and realized it had never been posted on Chicago Boyz. It is unfortunately still quite relevant.)
Almost every day, one encounters some business that is attempting to micromanage the interactions between its employees and its customers.
At lunchtime a couple of weeks ago, I was in the mood for bacon & eggs, so I went to a restaurant (part of a local chain) that has breakfast items all day long. The interaction went something like this:
Waitperson: Welcome to Snarfers-by-the-Lake, my name is Linda, I’ll be your server today.
Me: Hi, Linda. I’m kind of in a breakfast mood, so I think I’ll have the bacon & eggs.
WP (looks confused, as if she’d never heard of this dish before): Bacon & eggs? I don’t think…Oh, that would be our “eggs any style.”
Me: OK…style I like ‘em is over medium, with the bacon pretty crisp.
WP: Over medium…and would you like bacon or sausage with that?
Me: Bacon…pretty crisp.
WP: And our soup today is cream of broccoli.
Me: Soup with breakfast? That would be something different!
WP: I know it’s silly, but they make me say it.
I know it’s silly, but they make me say it. In how many consumer-oriented businesses could employees say the same thing?
Also a couple of weeks ago, I had to call my local telco, always a dreaded experience. After I had finally gotten through the levels of the voice response menu and got a person, it was:
CS Agent: Thank you for calling, how may I provide you with exceptional service today?
How may I provide you with exceptional service today? You can bet the agent didn’t come up with this phrase all by herself. And I doubt if her management came up with it all on their own. No, I detect the fine hand of a consultant here–maybe the pointy-haired guy in Dilbert went into the CS consulting business.
What imaginable purpose is there in requiring this phrase to be used in thousands of calls per day? Customers will decide if the service is “exceptional” or not based on what gets done or not done. You’re not going to convince them by using the word. And from the standpoint of the CS agents, this kind of thing can only breed cynicism.
Saturday, June 14, 2014
THE RULE OF CREDENTIALED "EXPERTS"
They had a dream. For almost a hundred years now, the famed academic-artistic-and-punditry industrial complex has dreamed of a government run by their kind of people (i.e., nature’s noblemen), whose intelligence, wit, and refined sensibilities would bring us a heaven on earth. Their keen intellects would cut through the clutter as mere mortals’ couldn’t. They would lift up the wretched, oppressed by cruel forces. Above all, they would counter the greed of the merchants, the limited views of the business community, and the ignorance of the conformist and dim middle class…Their stock in trade was their belief in themselves, and their contempt for the way the middle class thought, lived, and made and spent money: Commerce was crude, consumption was vulgar, and industry, which employed millions and improved the lives of many more people, too gross and/or grubby for words.
These attitudes, Emery notes, explain the passionate attraction that so many academics and journalists felt toward Barack Obama:
Best of all, he was the person whom the two branches of the liberal kingdom—the academics and journalists—wanted to be, a man who shared their sensibilities and their views of the good and the beautiful. This was the chance of a lifetime to shape the world to their measure. He and they were the ones they were waiting for, and with him, they longed for transcendent achievements. But in the event they were undone by the three things (Fred) Siegel had pegged as their signature weaknesses: They had too much belief in the brilliance of experts, they were completely dismissive of public opinion, and they had a contempt for the great middle class.
Much of the “expertise” asserted by people in the academic-artistic-and-punditry complex is entirely imaginary, as far as the organization and management of social institutions goes. L&G cites one of my old posts at Photon Courier:
In university humanities departments, theory is increasingly dominant–not theory in the traditional scholarly and scientific sense of a tentative conceptual model, always subject to revision, but theory in the sense of an almost religious doctrine, accepted on the basis of assertion and authority. To quote Professor “X” once again: “Graduate “education” in a humanities discipline like English seems to be primarily about indoctrination and self-replication.”…
Becoming an alcolyte of some all-encompassing theory can spare you from the effort of learning about anything else. For example: if everything is about (for example) power relationships–all literature, all history, all science, even all mathematics–you don’t need to actually learn much about medieval poetry, or about the Second Law of thermodynamics, or about isolationism in the 1930s. You can look smugly down on those poor drudges who do study such things, while enjoying “that intellectual sweep of comprehension known only to adolescents, psychopaths and college professors” (the phrase is from Andrew Klavan’s unusual novel True Crime.)
I believe that the overemphasis on educational credentials has played a major part in shifting the power balance between Line and Staff in organizations of all types…here, I am using “Line” to refer to people who have decision-making authority and responsibility, and corresponding accountability for outcomes, while “Staff” refers to people who analyze, study, and advise, but are not themselves decision-makers. It was once pretty well understood that one should not take a person whose entire experience is in Staff positions (however exalted) and put him in a high-level Line position, where the consequences of failure will be very serious, without first having him gain experience and prove his performance in lower-level Line positions where the consequences of failure will be less-devastating to the entire organization. This seems to be much less well-understood today, the ultimate example of course being the career path of Barack Obama.
Fred Siegel, mentioned in Noemie Emery’s article, is the author of the very interesting book The Revolt Against the Masses, which is on my (long) list of books that need reviewing.
Monday, June 09, 2014
NAUTICAL BOOK PROJECT: VOLUNTEERS NEEDED
Who wants to sign up to do a review of:
1) One or more Joseph Conrad nautically-themed novels?
2) Moby Dick?
3) The Aubrey-Maturin series (either the series as a whole, or the early books)?
Ones I’m planning to do myself are White Jacket (Melville), The Hornblower Series (at least the early ones), and The Cruel Coast.
Michael Kennedy, with your considerable sailing experience I hope you’ll sign up to do at least one review for this series.
THE RISE OF THE AMERICAN CLERISY
The very term Clerisy first appeared in 1830 in the work of Samuel Coleridge to described the bearers society’s highest ideals: the intellectuals, pastors, scientists charged with transmitting their privileged knowledge them to the less enlightened orders.
The rise of today’s Clerisy stems from the growing power and influence of its three main constituent parts: the creative elite of media and entertainment, the academic community, and the high-level government bureaucracy.
The Clerisy operates on very different principles than its rival power brokers, the oligarchs of finance, technology or energy. The power of the knowledge elite does not stem primarily from money, but in persuading, instructing and regulating the rest of society. Like the British Clerisy or the old church-centered French First Estate, the contemporary Clerisy increasingly promotes a single increasingly parochial ideology and, when necessary, has the power to marginalize, or excommunicate, miscreants from the public sphere.
Definitely read the whole thing.