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PHOTON COURIER
 
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:
continued at Chicago Boyz

8:06 PM

Monday, May 15, 2017  
WORTHWHILE READING, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY EDITION

See my post at Chicago Boyz

2:16 PM

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

1:53 PM

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.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

2:01 PM

Thursday, May 04, 2017  
WORTHWHILE READING

Case in point:  Brooklyn College
Also from Roger Simon:  Roots of Liberal/Progressive Rage
In 1711, the Spectator had some positive things to say about merchants–not a common opinion among the smart set in that place and time.  (Original article here.)
Thoughts about the archetype of the American farm boy and the present-day hostility of elitist ‘progressives’ toward people who fit this archetype:
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.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:13 AM

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.
continued at Chicago Boyz

1:15 PM

Wednesday, April 26, 2017  
BAD STEWARDS

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.
continued at Chicago Boyz

8:16 AM

Saturday, April 22, 2017  
WORTHWHILE READING

Sarah Hoyt:  Hereditary monarchy, feudalism, and a vicious cycle of crazy….coming soon to a country near you?
Why Danusha Goska left the Left.  Years of observing, and being subjected to, unpleasant and just-plain-nuts behavior.
There has been much discussion lately about the increased suicide rate and additive behavior among white working-class men.  Here’s a collection of comments to a Huffington Post article on that topic.  (via The Arts Mechanical.)
In her ‘why I left the Left’ post, Danusha described the prevalence of hate, rather than a true desire to make things better, among today’s ‘progressives.’  That hate is very much on display in the Huffington Post comments.
The past of the future apocalypse:  Stuart Schneiderman reviews some predictions of doom from back in 1970.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

1:04 PM

Saturday, April 15, 2017  
WORTHWHILE VISITING


The National Museum of Industrial History is located on the site of the former Bethlehem Steel complex.  Most of the original buildings are derelict or partly torn-down, but the above array of blast furnaces and supporting equipment has been preserved.
Suggested musical accompaniment for a visit to the place that was Bethlehem Steel…features a different company and a slightly different geography, but basically the same sad story.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:50 PM

Thursday, April 13, 2017  
STILL CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS


German Political Thought

...although, in fairness, the trend toward suppression of political speech that challenges the Official Viewpoint is by no means limited to Germany, it appears to be a Europe-wide phenomenon.  One might have hoped, though, that Germany, given its history, would be particularly aware of the dangers of this sort of thing.

If this law really goes into force, you can bet that it will be employed largely against those who dare to criticize Islam in any of its manifestations.  (Even without the proposed law, a German satirist has been prosecuted for insulting President Ergodan of Turkey.)

Prosecutions for blasphemy and lèse-majesté…not just for the Middle Ages!

(In his memoirs, Kaiser Wilhelm II expressed admiration for the stringent British libel laws and also expressed his regret that a similar level of constraint on newspapers in German had not been possible.  If present trends continue, maybe the German democracy in 2017 will manage to actually become a less-free society than the German Empire in 1914.)

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

3:23 PM

Sunday, April 09, 2017  
HOW TO SELL NCR CASH REGISTERS IN 1917



cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:35 PM

Friday, April 07, 2017  
WORTHWHILE READING

Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan is, IMO, one of the more thoughtful of the financial industry CEO’s.  In his annual letter to shareholders, he devotes considerable space to the current situation of the United States–our assets, our problems, and potential paths for improvement.  The public policy section of the letter starts on page 32.
My view of several issues is different from Mr Dimon’s, but I think the letter is well worth reading and thinking about.
(Disclosure:  I’m a JPM investor)
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

12:18 PM

Monday, April 03, 2017  
FREEDOM AND THE AMERICAN CHARACTER

I was thinking, for some reason, about the old Cole Porter song Don’t Fence Me In.  It’s not all that good of a song, IMO–but it does express a chafing at restriction that most people would once have agreed was a core aspect of the American character.
Now, however, I’m not so sure.  Seems to me a lot of people–especially but not only on college campuses–are asking to be fenced in, and are looking at hobbles not negatively but with admiration.
Questions for discussion:
–Has individual freedom indeed become a less-important value to Americans (in general) over recent decades?
–If so, what are the drivers of this change?…and what are the implications?
–Was Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor right about human nature?
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

2:00 PM

Tuesday, March 28, 2017  
WORTHWHILE READING & VIEWING


Some people find it very upsetting that President Trump likes to put ketchup on steak.  (Not something I’d do, but then I never put ketchup on french fries, either…)  Matthew Continetti says:  It is hard to read stories like these without coming to the conclusion that so much of our elite’s abhorrence of Trump is a matter of aesthetics.
There’s considerable truth in that point, I think.  Lead and Gold quotes GK Chesterton:  The modern world will not distinguish between matters of opinion and matters of principle and it ends up treating them all as matters of taste.  Follow the link to read what L&G has to say about the worship of ‘taste’, using the Bloomsbury group as an example.
Contrary to the socialist promises of making a new man out of the rubble of the old order, as one new stone after another was put into place and the socialist economy was constructed, into the cracks between the blocks sprouted once again the universals of human nature: the motives and psychology of self-interested behavior, the search for profitable avenues and opportunities to improve one’s own life and that of one’s family and friends, through the attempt to gain control over and forms of personal use of the “socialized” scarce resources and commodities within the networks and interconnections of the Soviet bureaucracy.
Stuart Schneiderman writes about nationalism vs internationalism, and Don Sensing has some thoughts on tribalism.  Both are well worth reading.
Traditionally, the “critical” part of the term “critical thinking” has referred not to the act of criticizing, or finding fault, but rather to the ability to be objective. “Critical,” in this context, means “open-minded,” seeking out, evaluating and weighing all the available evidence. It means being “analytical,” breaking an issue down into its component parts and examining each in relation to the whole. Above all, it means “dispassionate,” recognizing when and how emotions influence judgment and having the mental discipline to distinguish between subjective feelings and objective reason—then prioritizing the latter over the former…I assumed that virtually all the readers (of a post on a higher-education website) would agree with this definition of critical thinking—the definition I was taught as a student in the 1980s and which I continue to use with my own students.
To my surprise, that turned out not to be the case. Several readers took me to task for being “cold” and “emotionless,” suggesting that my understanding of critical thinking, which I had always taken to be almost universal, was mistaken.
Some great pictures of villages around the world.  (via Craig Newmark)
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

4:17 PM

Wednesday, March 22, 2017  
ECONOMIC GROWTH AND THE SPIRIT OF DEBATE

Writing in the WSJ, Naftali Bennett takes on the question of what is the “secret educational ingredient” that accounts for Israel’s dramatic economic success.  While agreeing with others that good schools are a part of it, he also assigns credit to “a parallel education system that operates alongside the formal one.  This is where our children learn to become entrepreneurs.”
And what are the components of this parallel education system?  He identifies three of them.  First, there is “our heritage of debate”…the study of the Talmud. “The meaning of complex texts is debated by students in hevruta–pairs–with a teacher offering occasional guidance..Since the Talmud is one of the most complex legal codes ever gathered, the idea of a verdict is almost irrelevant to those studying.  Students engage in debate for the sake of debate.  They analyze issues from all directions, finding different solutions.  Multiple answers to a single question are common.”
Bennett identifies the second component of the parallel education system as the collection of youth organizations:  “Teenagers work closely with younger children; they lead groups on excursions  and hikes, develop informal curricula, and are responsible for those in their care.  As an 11th-grade student , I took fifth-graders on an overnight hike in the mountains.  Being given responsibilities at a young age helped shape me into who I am today.”
The third component is the army:  “Consider a hypothetical 19-year-old soldier in the intelligence corps, analyzing aerial photographs or intercepted communications.  She must decide if the material in front of her indicates an impending attack or not.  This isn’t a rare occurrence. Thousands of Israeli soldiers experience it daily.”
Just a couple of hours after reading the Bennett piece, I encountered this story about Wellesley College:
In an email to fellow faculty yesterday afternoon, a committee of Wellesley College professors made several startling recommendations about how they think future campus speakers should be chosen. If implemented, the proposals by the faculty Commission for Ethnicity, Race, and Equity would have a profound impact on the quality and quantity of voices Wellesley students would be permitted to hear.
FIRE has obtained the email, sent by one of the signatories to a faculty listserv, and republished it in full below.
While paying lip service to free speech, the email is remarkable in its contempt for free and open dialogue on campus. Asserting that controversial speakers “impose on the liberty of students, staff, and faculty at Wellesley,” the committee members lament the fact that such speakers negatively impact students by forcing them to “invest time and energy in rebutting the speakers’ arguments.” 
And here we thought learning to effectively challenge views with which one disagreed was an important part of the educational process!
Meanwhile, at the University of Arizona, students who feel offended are being told to say “ouch”…and the student who made the supposedly-hurtful comment is supposed to respond with “oops.”  And these two universities are farfrom the only ones adopting such policies.
So if a key part of Israel’s economic success is the training of kids in the skills and attitudes of debate…it would appear that many if not most American universities are doing the exact opposite.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:44 AM

Tuesday, March 21, 2017  
AROUND THE WORLD BY ZEPPELIN,  IN 1929

In August 1929, the airship Graf Zeppelin set off for a round-the-world flight.  Among the 20 passengers on board was Lady Grace Drummond-Hay, whose trip was paid for by the Hearst newspapers and whose assignment was to write about the venture from a woman’s perspective.  Lady Hay was somewhat disconcerted to find out that among the other passengers on the trip would be a journalist named Karl Henry von Wiegand, with whom she was deeply in love–Karl having broken off their relationship six months earlier.
Here’s a wonderful pseudo-documentary about the flight, with the story told from Lady Hay’s perspective.  I call it a pseudo-documentary because while the film is genuine, the narration is only partly taken from Hay’s articles and letters–part of it was created by the screenwriters—and there is at least one event that was fictionalized. Includes great film footage of New York, Friederichshafen, and Toyko.  Very much worth watching.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:16 AM

Friday, March 17, 2017  
BOOK REVIEW:  THE YEAR OF THE FRENCH (rerun)

The Year of the French, by Thomas Flanagan
(This being St Patrick’s day, I’m again taking advantage of the hook to re-post this review, in the hope of inspiring a few more people to read this incredibly fine historical novel)
Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century,” going on to say “except for ‘The Leopard,’ I know of no historical novel that so richly and convincingly captures the ambience of a bygone world.”
In August of 1798, the French revolutionary government landed 1000 troops in County Mayo to support indigenous Irish rebels, with the objective of overthrowing British rule in Ireland.  The Year of the French tells the (fictionalized but fact-based) story of these events from the viewpoint of several characters, representing different groups in the complex and strife-ridden Irish social structure of the time.
Owen MacCarthy is a schoolmaster and poet who writes in the Gaelic tradition.  He is pressed by illiterate locals to write a threatening letter to a landlord who has evicted tenants while switching land from farming to cattle-raising.  With his dark vision of how an attempt at rebellion must end–“In Caslebar.  They will load you in carts with your wrists tied behind you and take you down to Castlebar and try you there and hang you there”–MacCarthy is reluctant to get involved, but he writes the letter.
Sam Cooper, the recipient of the letter, is a small-scale landlord, and captain of the local militia.  Indigenously Irish, his family converted to Protestantism several generations ago to avoid the crippling social and economic disabilities imposed on Catholics. Cooper’s wife, Kate, herself still Catholic, is a beautiful and utterly ruthless woman…she advises Cooper to respond to the letter by rounding up “a few of the likeliest rogues,”  jailing and flogging them, without any concern for actual guilt or innocence. “My God, what a creature you are for a woman,”  Cooper responds. “It is a man you should have been born.”  “A strange creature that would make me in your bed,” Kate fires back, “It is a woman I am, and fine cause you have to know it…What matters now is who has the land and who will keep it.”
Ferdy O’Donnell  is a young hillside farmer on Cooper’s land.  Far back in the past, the land was owned by the O’Donnell family…Ferdy had once shown Cooper  “a valueless curiosity, a parchment that recorded the fact in faded ink the colour of old, dried blood.”
Arthur Vincent Broome is a Protestant clergyman who is not thrilled by the “wild and dismal region” to which he has been assigned, but who performs his duties as best he can. Broome is resolved to eschew religious bigotry, but…”I affirm most sincerely that distinctions which rest upon creed mean little to me, and yet I confess that my compassion for their misery is mingled with an abhorrence of their alien ways…they live and thrive in mud and squalour…their music, for all that antiquarians and fanatics can find to say in its flavor, is wild and savage…they combine a grave and gentle courtesy with a murderous violence that erupts without warning…”‘
Malcolm Elliott is a Protestant landlord and solicitor, and a member of the Society of United Irishmen.  This was a revolutionary group with Enlightenment ideals, dedicated to bringing Catholics and Protestants together in the cause of overthrowing British rule and establishing an Irish Republic.  His wife, Judith, is an Englishwoman with romantic ideas about Ireland.
John Moore, also a United Irishman, is a member of one of the few Catholic families that have managed to hold on to their land.  He is in love with Ellen Treacy, daughter of another prominent Catholic family: she returns his love, but believes that he is caught in a web of words that can only lead to disaster.  “One of these days you will say a loose word to some fellow and he will get on his horse and ride off to Westport to lay an information with Dennis Browne, and that will be the last seen of you”
Dennis Browne is High Sheriff of Mayo…smooth, manipulative, and devoted to the interests of the very largest landowners in the county, such as his brother Lord Altamont and the mysterious Lord Glenthorne, the “Big Lord” who owns vast landholdings and an immense house which he has never visited.
Randall MacDonnell is a Catholic landowner with a decrepit farm and house, devoted primarily to his horses.  His motivations for joining the rebellion are quite different from those of the idealistic United Irishman…”For a hundred years of more, those Protestant bastards have been the cocks of the walk, strutting around on acres that belong by rights to the Irish…there are men still living who remember when a son could grab his father’s land by turning Protestant.”
Jean Joseph Humbert is the commander of the French forces.  A former dealer in animal skins, he owes his position in life to the revolution.  He is a talented commander, but  the battle he is most concerned about is the battle for status and supremacy between himself and  Napoleon Bonaparte.
Charles Cornwallis, the general who surrendered to the Americans at Yorktown, is now in charge of defeating the French and the rebels and pacifying the rebellious areas of Ireland.   Seen through the eyes of  a young aide who admires him greatly, Cornwallis is portrayed as a basically kindly man who can be hard when he thinks it necessary, but takes no pleasure in it.  “The color of war had long since bleached from his thoughts, and it remained for him only a duty to be scrupulously performed.”
This book is largely about the way in which the past lives on in the present, both in the world of physical objects and the world of social relationships.  Two characters who make a brief appearance are Richard Manning, proprietor of a decrepit and debt-laden castle, and his companion Ellen Kirwan:
continued at Chicago Boyz


8:22 AM

Tuesday, March 14, 2017  
MUSIC REVIEW:  THE ROSE OF ROSCRAE

This work by Tom Russell is a highly ambitious album:  a song-cycle, practically an opera, whose storyline extends from Ireland to the American West to the island of Molokai, where the priest Father Damien cared for outcast lepers.
In the title song, Johnny Dutton tells of being beaten up by the father of the beautiful 15-year-old Rose (after being caught in the hayloft with her) and making his way from Ireland to the United States, where he planned to live out the dreams he had absorbed from cheap novels of the West.
Johnny works for the legendary rancher Charlie Goodnight, but eventually turns to a life of crime.  He is caught and found guilty, but escapes.  He is pursued by his nemesis Augie Blood, US Marshal and evangelist, who travels in a prairie schooner (drawn by mules named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) with a cross on the sail and a saloon piano in the back on which he plays gospel tunes.
Will Johnny escape Augie Blood?  Will he ever be reunited with the Rose of Roscrae?  Will his longing for Ireland ever take him back to the Old Country?
A few of the songs:
He Wasn’t a Bad Kid When He Was Sober.  (Russell got a letter from “a rather well-known Western artist” who apparently wanted him to write a song based on “new information that Billy the Kid was a real hero of sorts. A true Irishman and a friend of the Mexican poor.”  This song is Russell’s answer)
There are a LOT of performers on this album, in addition to Tom R himself, they include Johnny Cash, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Maura O’Connell, Ian Tyson, and Gretchen Peters.  There is even a Swiss Yodel Choir!
When I first heard this album, I liked it but didn’t think it quite measured up to TR’s earlier song-cycle, The Man from God Knows Where(link goes to my review)  But The Rose of Roscrae grows on you.  An exceptional piece of work, well-worth buying and listening to many times.
The album can be purchased at Amazon.  Also available is a bundle which includes the program guide / libretto as well as the album itself.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

12:53 PM

Sunday, March 12, 2017  
A CLASSICAL EDUCATION IN THE AZORES


Here’s a very interesting article by a Portuguese teacher who developed and ran an intensive classical-studies program for high school students in the Azores Islands.  Highly recommended.
Meanwhile, back in the USA.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

10:06 AM

Tuesday, March 07, 2017  
MARK ZUCKERBERG AS POLITICAL AND SOCIAL PHILOSOPHER

A long essay by the founder of Facebook includes this assertion:
History is the story of how we’ve learned to come together in ever greater numbers — from tribes to cities to nations.
To which Steve Sailer responds:
As we all know, independence and diversity have always been the enemy of progress.
For example, that’s why Thomas Jefferson wrote The Declaration of Dependence submitting the American colonies to the British Empire.
Similarly, the father of history, Herodotus, wrote to celebrate the mighty Persian Empire’s reduction of the various Greek city-states to a satrapy ruled from Babylon.
Likewise, every year Jews gather to admit that their stiff-neckedness provoked the Roman Empire into, rightfully, smashing the Temple in Jerusalem on the holy day of We-Had-It-Coming.
And, of course, who can forget Shakespeare’s plays, such as Philip II and Admiral-Duke of Medina Sidonia, lauding the Spanish Armada for conquering the impudent English and restoring to Canterbury the One True Faith?
Similarly, Oswald Mosley’s prime ministership (1940-1980) of das englische Reich is justly admired for subordinating England’s traditional piratical turbulence to the greater good of Europe.
Likewise, who can not look at the 49 nations currently united by their adherence to the universalist faith of Islam and not see that submission is the road to peace, prosperity, and progress? If only unity had prevailed at Tours in 732 instead of divisiveness. May that great historical wrong be swiftly rectified in the decades to come!
(links via Isegoria)
Zuckerberg’s assertion about history being about “coming together in ever larger numbers”…with the implication that this is inherently in a good thing…is quite reminiscent of the views of Edward Porter Alexander, a Confederate general and later a railroad president…as excerpted in my post What are the limits of the Alexander analysis?
Following his initial snarkiness, Steve Sailer goes on to point out that “consolidation is some times a good thing, and other times independence or decentralization is a better thing. Getting the scale of control right all depends upon the circumstances. It’s usually a very interesting and complicated question that is the central issue of high statesmanship.”
Thoughts?
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

1:08 PM

Saturday, March 04, 2017  
WORTHWHILE READING

Simulating a microprocessor with techniques similar to those used in neuroscience raises some cautionary thoughts about conclusions being drawn in the later work.
Don Sensing links his 2014 post:  America is adopting the Middle East model, and he’s not talking about Islam but rather about the   fact that “At an increasing pace, politics in the West, especially in America, is the surest way to wealth, a 180-out from the West’s history”…but consistent with the way things have worked for millennia in the Middle East.
Anthony Esolen:  We are a people now illiterate in a way that is unprecedented for the human race. We can decipher linguistic signs on a page, but we have no songs and immemorial stories in our hearts.
Despite about all the automation innovations and the concerns about robots taking all the jobs, manufacturing productivity may really not be showing much in the way of an upward trend.
Management and meaningful work, studied via Legos

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

5:54 AM

Thursday, February 23, 2017  
ROBOTS AND JOBS - THE BET

Keith Ablow, a Fox News analyst, asked Should Trump stop robots from stealing jobs?
Economist Don Boudreaux responded:
It’s true that the pace of introducing new labor-saving techniques has magnificently quickened in the past two hundred years.  This fast pace continues today.  Yet still we encounter no evidence that labor-saving techniques permanently increase unemployment.
You’ll reply “This time is different!”  Perhaps, but I doubt it.  And I’m so confident in my prediction that I’ll put $10,000 of my own my money where my mouth is.
Terms of the wager are at the Boudreaux link. I’m not sure if the bet has been accepted or not.
Meanwhile, here is Bill Gates, suggesting that robots should be taxed.  Left undefined, at least in this interview, is a question of Exactly What is a Robot?  Is a CNC machine tool a robot?  I’d say it absolutely is, as was the case with earlier numerically-controlled machine tools that became pretty common in the 1970s and 1980s.  How about an automated teller machine in a bank?  And what about “robots” that have no direct physical incarnation but are purely software, such as the office productivity software that accounted for a huge portion of Microsoft’s success?  It was largely Microsoft Word and similar software that made secretaries an endangered species in most organizations.  (Can you imaging the lobbying, litigation, and regulatory struggles that would surround this definitional issue if politicians were to take Bill’s proposal seriously?)
The proposal also ignores that fact that the United States is not the entire world–taxing robots here would harm our competitiveness vis-a-vis those countries pursuing no such policy.  (Which would clearly include China.)  The only way to make a US-only anti-robot policy ‘work’ would be to establish very high tariff barriers.
See also my posts Attack of the Job-Killing Robots and Attack of the Job-Killing Robots Part 2.   I hope to soon complete Part 3 of the series, which will focus on automation technologies and their impact in the post-WWII era.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyzwhere comments are open


8:18 AM

Wednesday, February 15, 2017  
ENIAC ANNIVERSARY

With all the current discussion about robotics and artificial intelligence, this seems like an anniversary worth noting:  the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator) was formally announced on February 15, 1946.  (Or maybe it was February 14.)  Originally developed to compute artillery trajectories, it was sufficiently general in its design that it could be programmed to address other kinds of problems as well.  The programming was originally done with patch cords, but soon a sort of stored-programming approach was developed wherein the patch cord layout remained the same and the program was entered via an array of rotary switches.
See also Robot Mathematician Knows All The Answers, about the Harvard Mark I, a slightly earlier computer that was electromechanical rather than purely electronic in its operation, and a post about the Naval Ordnance Research Calculator, a ‘supercomputer’ of 1954.
I wonder if these early computers would have made such a strong popular impression if they had not been so physically large.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:37 AM

Sunday, February 12, 2017  
WORTHWHILE READING

Is it possible to make American mate again?
Theory and practice: an interesting Assistant Village Idiot post from 2010
After discussing his concerns about automation-driven job losses, he goes on to say “I feel even worse when I hear misleading statements about the source of the problem. Blaming China and NAFTA is a convenient deflection, but denial will only make the wrenching employment dislocation for millions all the more painful.”
I’ve seen this assertion–“offshoring doesn’t matter because Robots”–and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.  It should be obvious that both factors play a role; there’s no need for a single-variable explanation.  (Actually, offshoring-driven job losses and automation-driven job losses are somewhat less than additive in their effect, since automation generally makes US-based production more relatively attractive.)
Here’s an argument that the next big blue-collar job is coding.
What if we regarded code not as a high-stakes, sexy affair, but the equivalent of skilled work at a Chrysler plant? Among other things, it would change training for programming jobs—and who gets encouraged to pursue them. As my friend Anil Dash, a technology thinker and entrepreneur, notes, teachers and businesses would spend less time urging kids to do expensive four-year computer-­science degrees and instead introduce more code at the vocational level in high school….Across the country, people are seizing this opportunity, particularly in states hit hardest by deindustrialization. In Kentucky, mining veteran Rusty Justice decided that code could replace coal. He cofounded Bit Source, a code shop that builds its workforce by retraining coal miners as programmers. Enthusiasm is sky high: Justice got 950 applications for his first 11 positions. Miners, it turns out, are accustomed to deep focus, team play, and working with complex engineering tech. “Coal miners are really technology workers who get dirty,” Justice says.
I’m reminded of two things that Peter Drucker said in his 1969 book The Age of Discontinuity.  In attacking what he called ‘the diploma curtain’, he wrote “By denying opportunity to those without higher education, we are denying access to contribution and performance to a large number of people of superior ability, intelligence, and capacity to achieve.”
But also, Drucker wrote, in his discussion of the Knowledge Economy:
The knowledge worker of today…is not the successor to the ‘free professional’ of 1750 or 1900.  He is the successor to the employee of yesterday, the manual worker, skilled or unskilled…This hidden conflict between the knowledge workers view of himself as a ‘professional’ and the social reality in which he is the upgraded and well-paid successor to the skilled worker of yesterday, underlies the disenchantment of so many highly educated young people with the jobs available to them…They expect to be ‘intellectuals.’  And the find that they are just ‘staff.’
Indeed, many jobs that have been thought of as ‘professional’ and ‘white collar’…programming, financial analysis, even engineering…are increasingly subject to many of the stresses traditionally associated with ‘blue collar’ jobs, such as layoffs and cyclical unemployment.  As a higher % of the corporate cost structure becomes concentrated in jobs which are not direct labor, it is almost inevitable that these jobs will be hit increasingly when financial problems make themselves felt.
Drucker’s second point, which I think is very astute, is somewhat orthogonal to the coal-miners-becoming-coders piece, and probably deserves it own post for discussion.  Regarding the question of non-college-educated people becoming programmers (of which there has long already been a fair amount), the degree to which succeeds is to some degree coupled with the whole question of h-1b visa policy, and trade policy in general as it relates to offshoring of services.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

3:31 PM

Tuesday, February 07, 2017  
FREEDOM, THE VILLAGE, AND THE INTERNET

See the post at Chicago Boyz

1:45 PM

Friday, February 03, 2017  
TWO VERY POOR ANALYSES

Forbes ran an article with the headline “Solar employs more people in US electricity generation than oil, coal, and gas combined” and goes on to say “It’s a welcome statistic for those seeking to refute Donald Trump’s assertion that green energy projects are bad news for the American economy.”
Unmentioned in this article is the point that energy production is not done for the purpose of energy production; it is done for the purpose of energy use…and production modes which are more expensive tend to cost jobs downstream.  If an excessive emphasis on solar and wind cause electricity prices to rise significantly, the negative impact will fall on those who work in manufacturing and other fields that are energy-intensive.
To take an extreme case, one could easily create millions and millions of jobs in energy generation by requiring that all electricity be generated by human beings turning cranks connected to generators.  It is silly to look at job-creation as a good thing in isolation, without considering factors other than the number of people hired.  The Forbes article also neglects to mention the point that in most technologies, and certainly in electricity generation, the construction phase of a plant generally requires a lot more labor than does the ongoing operation of that plant.
An even lower depth of mediocrity is reached in this International Monetary Fund article:  Counting the cost of energy subsidies.  This study considers traffic congestion and vehicle accidents as ‘externalities’ from fossil fuel usage.  In reality, of course, the replacement of all gasoline-and-diesel-powered vehicles with electric vehicles recharged from solar/wind…or even their replacement by unicorn-powered vehicles requiring no other energy source whatsoever…would by itself have no effect whatsoever on traffic congestion and vehicle accidents.  And while the elimination of automobiles and trucks completely would certainly eliminate traffic congestion, it would also lead to delays in travel which would greatly exceed the magnitude of the congestion-caused delays.
Putting lots of math in a study is not a substitute for common sense.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:35 AM

Tuesday, January 24, 2017  
UNCLE HENRY, CHARLIE KELLSTADT, AND DONALD TRUMP
As President Trump has focused on persuading certain specific companies to increase their US employment (or at least to refrain from decreasing it as much as originally planned), concerns have been raised about his ability to operate above the level of the single case and to think in terms of framing general policies.  I do share this concern to a certain extent.
But I’m also reminded of Peter Drucker’s story about two old-line merchants.
The first of these, called “Uncle Henry” by those who knew him, was the founder and owner of a large and succesful department store. When Drucker met him, he was already in his eighties. Uncle Henry was a businessman who did things by intuition more than by formal analysis, and his own son Irving, a Harvard B-School graduate, was appalled at “the unsystematic and unscientific way the store was being run.”
Drucker remembers his conversations with Uncle Henry. “He would tell stories constantly, always to do with a late consignment of ladies’ hats, or a shipment of mismatched umbrellas, or the notions counter. His stories would drive me up the wall. But gradually I learned to listen, at least with one ear. For surprisingly enough he always leaped to a generalization from the farrago of anecdotes and stocking sizes and color promotions in lieu of markdowns for mismatched umbrellas.”
Drucker also knew another leading merchant, Charles Kellstadt (who had once run Sears.) Kellstadt and Drucker served together on a Department of Defense advisory board (on procurement policy), and Kellstadt told “the same kind of stories Uncle Henry had told.” Drucker says that his fellow board members “suffered greatly from his interminable and apparently pointless anecdotes.”
On one occasion, a “whiz kid” (this was during the McNamara era) was presenting a proposal for a radically new approach to defense pricing policy. Kellstadt “began to tell a story of the bargain basement in the store in Chillicothe, Ohio, where he had held his first managerial job, and of some problem there with the cup sizes of women’s bras. he would stop every few sentences and ask the bewildered Assistant Secretary a quesion about bras, then go on. Finally, the Assistant Secretary said, “You don’t understand Mr. Kellstadt; I’m talking about concepts.” “So am I,” said Charlie, quite indignant, and went on. Ten minutes later all of us on the board realized that he had demolished the entire proposal by showing us that it was far too complex, made far too many assumptions, and contains far too many ifs, buts, and whens.” After the meeting, another board member (dean of a major engineering school) said admiringly, “Charlie, that was a virtuoso performance. but why did you have to drag in the cup sizes of the bras in your bargain basement forty years ago?” Drucker reports that Charlie was surprised by the question: “How else can I see a problem in my mind’s eye?”
continued at Chicago Boyz

12:32 PM

 
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