Thursday, October 12, 2017
LEARNING THE 777
Airline pilot Karlene Petitt is doing transition to the Boeing 777 and blogging about what she learns:
Series will continue at Karlene’s blog
Saturday, October 07, 2017
Wednesday, October 04, 2017
SPUTNIK ANNIVERSARY RERUN: BOOK REVIEW - ROCKETS AND PEOPLE
Today being the 60th 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 Russian 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:
Thursday, September 28, 2017
WORTHWHILE READING & VIEWING
Animated films: a transition both in technologies and in implicit political messages
Sunday, September 24, 2017
Prior to WWII, only a small minority of Americans had checking accounts. With the postwar economic boom and with some promotion (here’s an ABA video intended to educate Americans about the virtues of the check), the number of checking-account-holders grew sharply, and the problem of processing all the checks became an increasingly large absorber of clerical workers.
Attempting to dig itself out of the paperwork flood, Bank of America hired Stanford Research Institute to develop an automated solution. The prototype system, called ERMA, was operational in early 1956. The now-familiar MICR characters, printed in magnetic ink, were introduced to provide automatic account identification, so that only the amount of the check needed to be entered manually. An ERMA system maintained account data (for up to 32000 customers) on a magnetic drum, so that overdrafts and stop-check requests could be identified in real time. An automated check-sorting machine was included in the system.
EMRA employed 8000 vacuum tubes and drew 80KW of power….it was not a stored-program computer but was wired for its specific function. Development of follow-on production machines, which were solid-state and stored-program, was accomplished by NCR and GE.
It still seems remarkable that checks…flimsy paper documents that are often treated pretty roughly…can be processed and sorted at 10 per second (in the case of ERMA) or even faster in the case of follow-on systems. I read somewhere that when the ERMA system was being demonstrated to GE CEO Ralph Cordiner, he took one of his own checks, folded it in half, dropped in on the floor and stepped on it a couple of times, and then requested that it be included in the processing run. Apparently the system handled it just fine.
I post items like this because they provide needed perspective in our present “age of automation” when there is so much media focus of robotics, artificial intelligence, and ‘the Internet of Things,’ but not a whole lot of understanding for how these fit on the historical technology growth trajectory.
Previous Robot Emeritus posts:
Friday, September 22, 2017
SUMMER RERUN: STUPIDITY - COMMUNIST-STYLE AND CAPITALIST-STYLE
There’s an old story about a Soviet-era factory that made bathtubs. Plant management was measured on the total tonnage of output produced–and valves & faucets don’t add much to the weight, certainly not compared with the difficulty of manufacturing them. So the factory simply made and shipped thousands of bathtubs, without valves or faucets.
The above story may be apocryphal, but the writer “Viktor Suvorov” tells an even worse one, based on his personal experience. At the time, he was working on a communal farm in Russia:
The General Secretary of the Party set a task: there must be a sharp rise in agricultural output. So the whole country reflected on how best to achieve this magnificent aim.
The fertilizer plant serving the communes in Suvorov’s area resolved to do its part:
A vast meeting, thousands strong, complete with brass bands, speeches, placards, and banners, was urgently called at the local Chemical Combine. To a man, they shouted slogans, applauded, chanted patriotic songs. After that meeting, a competitive economy drive was launched at the Chemical Combine to harvest raw materials and energy resources.
The drive lasted all winter, and in the spring, on Lenin’s birthday, all the workers came in and worked without pay, making extra fertilizer from the materials that had been saved…several thousand tons of liquid nitrogen fertilizer, which they patriotically decided to hand over, free of charge, to the Region’s collective farms.
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
SUMMER RERUN: ATTACK OF THE ROBOT BUREAUCRATS
Via Bookworm, here is a truly appalling story from Minnesota. When the fire alarm went off at Como Park High School, a 14-year-old girl was rousted out of the swimming pool, and–dripping wet and wearing only a swimsuit–directed to go stand outside were the temperature was sub-zero and the wind chill made it much worse. Then, she was not allowed to take refuge in one of the many cars in the parking lotbecause of a school policy forbidding students from sitting in a faculty member’s car. As Bookworm notes:
Even the lowest intelligence can figure out that the rule’s purpose is to prevent teachers from engaging sexually with children. The likelihood of a covert sexual contact happening between Kayona and a teacherunder the actual circumstances is ludicrous. The faculty cars were in full view of the entire school. There was no chance of illicit sexual congress.
But the whole nature of bureaucratic rules, of course, is to forbid human judgment based on actual context.
Fortunately for Kayona, her fellow students hadn’t had human decency ground out of them by rules: “…fellow students, however, demonstrated a grasp of civilized behavior. Students huddled around her and some frigid classmates [sic], giving her a sweatshirt to put around her feet. A teacher coughed up a jacket.” As the children were keeping Kayona alive, the teachers were workingtheir way through the bureaucracy. After a freezing ten minutes, an administrator finally gave permission for the soaking wet, freezing Kayla to set in a car in full view of everybody.
As Bookworm notes, this sort of thing is becoming increasingly common. In England in 2009, for example, a man with a broken back lay in 6 inches of water, but paramedics refused to rescue him because they weren’t trained for water rescues. Dozens of similar examples could easily be dredged up.
The behavior of these bureaucrats is very similar to the behavior of a computer program confronted by a situation for which its designers did not explicitly provide. Sometimes the results will be useless, sometimes they will be humorous, often they will be harmful or outright disastrous.
Last year in Sweden, there was rampant rioting that included the torching of many cars. The government of Sweden didn’t do a very good job of protecting its citizens and their property from this outbreak of barbarism. Government agents did, however, fulfill their duty of issuing parking tickets…to burned-out cars. Link with picture. In my post The Reductio as Absurdum of Bureaucratic Liberalism, I said…
Friday, September 15, 2017
SUMMER RERUN: BOOK REVIEW - THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH
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.
Read the post at Chicago Boyz
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
ROBOTS OF THE WEEK
Sewing robots. Although spinning and weaving have long been highly mechanized, the final phase of the apparel-making value chain has resisted automation:
IN 1970 William J. Bank, president of the Blue Jeans Corporation, predicted that there would be a man on Mars before the production of apparel was automated. Almost half a century later, he has not yet been proved wrong.
But that may change soon, given recent development in robotic sewing. Two companies, Softwear Automation (Atlanta) and Sewbo (Seattle) are pursuing different strategies: Softwear’s approach is to create computer vision and robotic manipulation which is intelligent and subtle enough to deal with highly flexible fabric, whereas Sewbo’s approach is to temporarily stiffen the fabric in order to make working with it more like metalworking.
Depending on how well these systems work in practice, and how the technology evolves, they may turn out to be not only the robots of the week, but the robots of the year or even the decade. Apparel-making is a vast industry, concentrated in nations which are not-so-well-off economically, and employs a large number of people. A high level of automation would likely result in much of this production being relocated closer to the markets, thus saving transportation costs and shortening supply cycles. The consequences for countries like China, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka could be pretty unpleasant.
Most likely, unforeseen problems will slow the full deployment of these systems and an Apparel Apocalypse will not occur. It would certainly be wise, though, for the leaderships of apparel-manufacturing-intensive countries to focus on the need to develop a broader employment base.
Saturday, September 09, 2017
REMEDIAL READING FOR A 'NEW YORKER' WRITER
This New Yorker writer seems to feel that, had government been adequately respected, funded and supported (and the dangers of Climate Change properly recognized), the ‘Cajun Navy’ of volunteer rescuers would not have been needed.
Glenn Reynolds suggests that the author has apparently never read Alexis de Tocqueville. (Or, alternatively, I would suggest, may have read him but not really understood him all that well)
Tocqueville, of course, wrote famously (in his book Democracy in America) about the tendency of Americans to come together and form voluntary associations to accomplish particular goals, without anyone having to tell them to do so.
In both places the government numbers as many heads as the people; it preponderates, acts, regulates, controls, undertakes everything, provides for everything, knows far more about the subject’s business than he did hiself–is, in short, incessantly active and sterile.
Tuesday, September 05, 2017
MACHINE TOOLS AND GLASSMAKING
A visit to the American Precision Museum, dedicated to the history of the American machine tool industry, and also to the Simon Pearce glass facility. At Chicago Boyz.
Thursday, August 31, 2017
SUMMER RERUN: BOOK REVIEW - WOLF AMONG WOLVES
See the post at Chicago Boyz
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
ROBOT OF THE WEEK
Shark-detecting artificially-intelligent drone, now operational in Australia
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open
Friday, August 25, 2017
SUMMER RERUN: SIX HUNDRED MILLION YEARS IN K-12
(Millions of kids are already headed back to school, making it an appropriate time to again rerun this post)
Peter Orszag, who was Obama’s budget director, thinks it would be a good idea to cut back on summer school vacations for kids, arguing that this would both improve academics and reduce obesity.
I’m with Jeremy Lott: But to look at the vast wasteland that is American public education–the poor teaching, the awful curriculum, the low standards, the anemic achievement, the institutional resistance to needed reform and say that the real problem is summer vacation takes a special sort of mind.
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
SUMMER RERUN: STORIES OF SOLAR STRESS
Rerun inspired by the Eclipse - read the post at Chicago Boyz
Monday, August 21, 2017
POETRY FOR THE ECLIPSE
At Chicago Boyz
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
LIFE IN THE FULLY POLITICIZED SOCIETY, CONTINUED
Supporting Trump at this point does not indicate a difference of opinions. It indicates a difference of values…You do not need to try to make it work with someone who thinks of people as “illegals.” Just divorce them
(If the author of this piece really doesn’t understand that the presence of someone in a particular country can be illegal, she should try to visit or move to France, Mexico, Canada, China, or India without appropriate documentation. Should be educational.)
We are now pretty far down the road, I am afraid, toward the politicization of just about all aspects of life in American society. Here is a collection of earlier links and comments on that topic:
Saturday, August 12, 2017
ROBOT OF THE WEEK
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open
Thursday, August 03, 2017
How many of the people who are today projecting a technology-driven employment apocalypse have any idea that the industrial automation technology of 62 years ago was as capable as that shown in this video?
Wednesday, August 02, 2017
SUMMER RERUN: PREFIGURING THE HACKER--AND THE AMERICAN SURVEILLANCE SOCIETY
See the post at Chicago Boyz
Sunday, July 30, 2017
ROBOT OF THE WEEK
Saturday, July 29, 2017
WORTHWHILE READING & VIEWING
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.