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Sunday, August 21, 2016  
FAUSTIAN AMBITION (rerun)


A post on ambition at another blog (in 2010) , which included a range of quotations on the subject, inspired me to think that I might be able to write an interesting essay on the topic of ambition in Goethe’s Faust. This post is a stab at such an essay.
The word “Faustian” is frequently used in books, articles, blog posts, etc on all sorts of topics. I think the image that most people have of Faust is of a man who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for dangerous knowledge: sort of a mad-scientist type. This may be true of earlier versions of the Faust legend, but I think it’s a misreading (or more likely a non-reading) of Goethe’s definitive version.
Faust, at the time when the devil first appears to him, has devoted his entire life to the pursuit of knowledge–in many different scholarly disciplines–and is totally frustrated and in despair about the whole thing. It is precisely the desire to do something other than to pursue abstract knowledge that leads him to engage in his fateful bargain with Mephistopheles.
If it’s not the pursuit of abstract knowledge, then what ambition drives Faust to sell his soul? C S Lewis suggests that his motivations are entirely practical: he wants “gold and guns and girls.” This is partly true, but is by no means the whole story.
Certainly, Faust does like girls. Very early in the play, he encounters a young woman who strikes his fancy:
FAUST: My fair young lady, may I make free
To offer you my arm and company?
GRETCHEN: I’m neither fair nor lady, pray
Can unescorted find my way
FAUST: God, what a lovely child! I swear
I’ve never seen the like of her
She is so dutiful and pure
Yet not without a pert allure
Her rosy lip, her cheek aglow
I never shall forget, I know
Her glance’s timid downward dart
Is graven deeply in my heart!
But how she was so short with me–
That was consummate ecstasy!


Immediately following this meeting, Faust demands Mephisto’s magical assistance in the seduction of Gretchen. It’s noteworthy that he insists on this help despite the facts that (a)he brags to the devil that he is perfectly capable of seducing a girl like Gretchen on his own, without any diabolical assistance, and (b)a big part of Gretchen’s appeal is clearly that she seems so difficult to win–a difficulty that will be short-circuited by Mephisto’s help.
Mephisto, of course, complies with Faust’s demand…this devil honors his contracts…and Faust’s seduction of Gretchen leads directly to the deaths of her mother, her child by Faust, her brother, and to Gretchen’s own execution.
Diabolical magic also allows Faust to meet Helen of Troy (time and space are quite fluid in this play) whom he marries and impregnates, resulting in the birth of their child Euphorion.
So, per Lewis, yes, Faust is definitely motivated by the pursuit of women. But this is only a small part of the complex structure of ambition that Goethe has given his protagonist.
continued at Chicago Boyz

7:42 AM

Tuesday, August 16, 2016  
AN IMPORTANT POINT ABOUT THE ELECTION

Daniel Henninger, writing in the Wall Street Journal, points out one consequence of a Hillary Clinton presidency: the continuation and acceleration of the trends that are destroying American higher education.
One mechanism of destruction is the use of federal enforcement agencies to further entrench political correctness. Expect a lot more Star Chamber proceedings and witch-burnings. Another mechanism is increased federal dollars pipelined into the education industry, eliminating any incentives for reform.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open
(also posted it the members’ section at Ricochet)

8:05 AM

Thursday, August 11, 2016  
THE SEVEN THREAT VECTORS AGAINST FREE SPEECH


Free speech…free expression generally…is under attack in America and throughout the Western world to a degree not seen in a long time.  I think there are seven specific phenomena, incarnated in seven (partially-overlapping) categories of people, which are largely driving this attack, to wit:
The Thugs.  As I pointed out in my recent post The United States of Weimar?, illegal actions against political opponents–ranging from theft of newspapers to direct assault and battery–have in recent decades become increasingly common on university campuses, and now are well on track to being normalized as aspects of national political campaigns.
The Assassins.  These individuals go beyond the level of violence practiced by the Thugs, and make credible death threats…which they attempt to carry out…against those whose actions or believe they view as unacceptable.  The majority of threats and attacks falling in this category have certainly been the doing of radical Muslims; however, some of the more extreme ‘environmentalist’ and ‘animal rights’ groups have also demonstrated Assassin tendencies.  At present, however, it is those Assassins who are radical Muslims who have been most successful in inhibiting free expression. Four years in hiding for an American cartoonist.
The Wimps.  It seems that among the younger generations in America, there are a disproportionate number of people whose ‘self-esteem’ has been raised to such lofty but brittle levels that they cannot stand any challenge to their belief systems. Hence they are eager to sacrifice their own freedom of speech, as well as that of others, on the altar of ‘safety’ from disturbing words and thoughts.
The Bureaucrats.  Bureaucrats, especially in the universities but also increasingly in the private sector, are eager to provide the altars for the sacrifice of free speech, with Star Chamber proceedings and various forms of witch-burnings.
The Regulatory State.  The vast expansion of Federal regulatory activities and authority enables a wide range of adverse actions to be taken against individuals without the checks and balances of normal judicial proceedings. Witness, for example, the IRS persecution of conservative-leaning organizations (possibly extended to pro-Israel organizations as well.)  And the Bureaucrats in nominally-independent organizations are really often acting as agents and front men for the Regulatory State. (Consider the 2011 ‘Dear Colleague’ letter sent from the Department of Education to colleges and universities, regarding the handling of sexual assault allegations–which has had, the linked article argues, serious negative impact on free speech and due process.)
The Theoreticians.  Various academics have developed the concept of ‘oppressive speech’ and have developed models which attempt to break down the distinction between speech and action.  Since everyone agrees that actions must be regulated to some degree, this tends to pave the way for tightened regulation of speech.  (I think the conflation of speech with action is particularly sellable to those who in their professional lives are Word People and/or Image People.  To a farmer or a machinist or even an electrical engineer, the distinction between speech and action is pretty crisp.  To a lawyer or an advertising person or to a professor (outside the hard sciences), maybe not so much.  And the percentage of Word People and Image People in the overall population has grown greatly.)
The Fragility Feminists.  Actually, the word ‘Feminists’ should probably be in quotes, because the argument these people are making is in many ways the direct opposite of that made by the original feminists. There is a significant movement, again especially on college campuses, asserting that women are such fragile flowers that they must be endlessly protected from words that might upset them.  See the controversy over the name of the athletic center at the Colorado School of Mines…here I think we have the Bureaucrats and the Fragility Feminists making common cause, as they so often do.  For another (and particularly bizarre) case, read about professor Laura Kipnis, whose essay decrying ‘sexual paranoia on campus’ resulted in a Title IX inquisition against her.  In a particularly disturbing note, when Kipnis brought a ‘support person’ to her hearing, a Title IX complaint was filed against that person.
Your thoughts?
crossposted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

11:56 AM

Tuesday, August 02, 2016  
NEW JOBS CONTEST!  YOU COULD BE A WINNER!


In a comment to my post About Those Job-Killing Robots, TM Lutas said:
If you want to slay the mistaken talk about the end of human employment, hold a contest. Come up with labor demand boosting ideas that we do not engage in today because we either don’t have enough people or don’t have enough money to do it. Weigh jobs that don’t require much intelligence or education as more valuable than those requiring high education/intelligence. Within a year I predict enough entries to be submitted to put the entire world to work multiple times over.
It is a bit embarrassing to think about things we are too poor to do. This makes these jobs invisible to us today. By creating a contest and an artificial market for these ideas, they become visible and we turn from despair at the jobless future to wondering how we can become efficient enough to afford to do all these wonderful things.
Let’s prototype the contest here, among friends (and a few special adversaries and maybe even some enemies), and maybe we can roll it out later on a larger scale. The winner will receive a microscopic amount of fame, and also a virtual certificate, not suitable for framing.
What are the things that we collectively and individually can’t afford–but might be able to afford given higher levels of productivity and national income–that would meaningfully affect well-being and human satisfaction?  Define “things” as broadly as you like.  Consider both things that could become more affordable due to productivity improvements in a specific industry, and things whose creation might not by itself be meaningfully improvable from a productivity standpoint but which people could better afford given an upward trend in overall productivity and income.
Thoughts?
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:04 PM

Sunday, July 31, 2016  
ABOUT THOSE JOB-KILLING ROBOTS

Every day, there are articles and blog posts about how quickly robots are replacing jobs, particularly in manufacturing.  These often include assertions along the lines of “robots are replacing human labor so rapidly and so completely that it doesn’t really matter whether the factories are in the US or somewhere else.” There are also many assertions that robotics and artificial intelligence will triumph so completely that we must accept that we will permanently have a huge unemployed population who will need to be paid a “basic income” of some sort from the government.
This May, there were breathless headlines about how Foxconn, which is Apple’s primary contract manufacturer, was replacing 60,000 workers with robots–indeed, in some tellings, had already replaced them.  If you google “foxconn 60000 workers”, you will get about 130,000 hits.
But the story, however, is false; indeed, it did not even originate with Foxconn but rather with some local Chinese government officials who wanted to promote their area as “innovative.”
There has also been a lot of coverage of robotics at Adidas, which is trying to use automation to improve the labor productivity of shoe-making to the point that it can be done economically in high-wage countries such as Germany.  This article on Adidas also cites the Foxconn “60,000 jobs” assertion.
One key pair of numbers is missing from the stories I’ve seen on the Adidas project:  the ratio of human workers to shoes produced, with and without the addition of the robotics. You can’t really judge the labor-reducing impact of the project without these numbers.  In this Financial Times article, Adidas is quoted as saying, entirely reasonably, that they will need to get further into production with their new factory before developing meaningful productivity numbers.  The article also cites Boston Consulting Group as estimating that by “2025 advanced robots will boost productivity by as much as 30 per cent in many industries.”  Thirty percent is a very significant number, but it’s a long, long way from a productivity increase that would imply that factory jobs don’t matter, or that we’re going to inevitably have a very large permanently-unemployed population.
There are a lot of very significant innovations taking place in robotics and AI, but the hype level is getting a little out of hand.  And it’s important to remember that automation is not a new phenomenon.  For example, a CNC (computer numerically  controlled) machine tool is a robot, albeit it might not look like the popular conception of one, and these machines, together with their predecessor NC (numerically controlled) machines, have been common in industry since the 1970s. One thing that articles and blog posts on the topic of robotics/AI/jobs could benefit from is a little historical perspective: do today’s innovations really represent a sharp break upwards in labor productivity, or are they more of a continuation of a long-term trend?  And how, if it all,  is the effect of these technologies appearing in the productivity statistics?
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

12:28 PM

Thursday, July 28, 2016  
STATISTICAL MALPRACTICE, CLUELESSNESS ABOUT HUMANS

Almost every day, I see someone arguing that we shouldn’t worry about terrorism so much because your chances of being killed by a terrorist are less than your chances of being killed in an auto accident, or by slipping in the bathtub, or some such comparison.  Barack Obama, according to The Atlantic, “frequently reminds his staff that terrorism takes far fewer lives in America than handguns, car accidents, and falls in bathtubs do.”
Indeed, this argument was even being made shortly after 9/11, even being made by people with obviously high intelligence and mathematical knowledge.  Marvin Minsky, MIT professor and pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence, recommended scrapping “the whole ‘homeland defense’ thing” as “cost-ineffective.” According to the WSJ, Minsky calculates that the cost of preventing each terrorist-caused airplane fatality would be around $100MM, and that “we could save a thousand times as many lives at the same cost by various simple public-health measures.”  Whatever one thinks about the performance of Homeland Security as an organization, as a matter of logic Minsky’s argument was just plain wrong, as are its present-day equivalents.
Calculations of probability must be based on assumptions about whether the rate at which some phenomenon is occurring is static or is subject to change.  Based on the numbers of influenza in 1914, you might have concluded that you were not at material risk of dying from this disease. In 1918, things looked very different. The dynamics of the disease led to a very rapid increase in the probability of infection.
If the FAA receives some service difficulty reports indicating that cracks have appeared in the wing spars of a few aircraft that have reached about 10,000 hours in service…aircraft of this service level representing a small portion of the total production for this model…they’re not going to dismiss it with ‘well, no biggie’ and wait until substantial numbers of planes reach 15,000 hours or so and have the wing spars actually break in flight.  They’re going to analyze the situation and quite likely issue an Airworthiness Directive against the aircraft, requiring inspections and remedial action.
The wing spar case is an example of a process in which the mere passage of time can change the probabilities of the adverse event occurring.  The influenza case is an example of a malign positive feedback loop, i.e., a vicious circle–the more people become infected, the more other people they infect.  Positive feedback loops tend to have exponential growth patterns until something stops them.
In the case of terrorism, it should be obvious that successful terror attacks act as encouragement for future acts of terror–definitely a positive feedback loop. Remember what Osama bin Laden said about people wanting to side with the ‘strong horse’?  Moreover, terror attacks are demoralizing to the target country in a way in which random accidents are not.  There has already been a chilling effect on free speech driven by the desire to avoid angering the Islamists.
Bookworm offered an interesting take on this topic:
continued at Chicago Boyz

1:33 PM

Saturday, July 23, 2016  
LOYALTY AND RISK-TAKING

In one of the old Neptunus Lex posts that Bill Brandt has been rerunning at The Lexicans, Lex wrote about the man who was CO of his FA-18 training squadron:
My student cohort held him in awe: We’d been told that he had received an Air Medal during the war for saving a squadron mate’s life, or his liberty anyway. The latter had come off target badly hit and managed to limp only as far as the harbor at Hai Phong before his machine came apart. The pilot had been forced to eject and was floating in his raft a mile or so off shore, when he saw an NVA patrol craft bounding out to seize him. The unlucky aviator was contemplating the austere amenities of the Hanoi Hilton when our CO roared overhead at 500 feet, firing a Shrike missile in boresight mode.
The Shrike is an anti-radiation missile, designed to home on enemy radar and destroy it.  The radar-following mechanism is its only guidance system; the only way to hit a target that is not emitting radar is to get very close to it before you fire the missile–thereby placing yourself at considerable additional risk  Lex’s CO had taken that risk, destroying the North Vietnamese patrol craft, and making it possible for the shot-down pilot to be rescued by helicopter..
Reading the story, I couldn’t help wondering:  which if any of our current crop of political candidates and leaders would–in the extremely unlikely event that they ever found themselves flying combat aircraft–have made the same decision?
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

11:15 AM

Sunday, July 17, 2016  
AUTOMATED SYSTEMS NEED TO BE SUPERVISED BY HUMANS

…and not just any humans.
Listen to this very-well-done podcast about one of those times when thermonuclear war did not happen: Flirting with the end of the world.
Automated systems need to be supervised by humans, and not just any humans, as Stanislav Petrov’s story makes clear.  Individuals and bureaucracies that themselves behave in a totally robotic fashion cannot be adequate supervisors of the automation.  See also my post Blood on the tracks for an additional example.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:21 AM

Tuesday, July 12, 2016  
THE UNITED STATES OF WEIMAR?

There is much political violence in the US these days, ranging from attacks on Trump rally attendees to protesters at those rallies being sucker-punched to the politically and racially-motivated murder of police officers in Dallas to the throwing of Molotov cocktails at police in the state of Minnesota (where the social climate was once characterized by the term ‘Minnesota nice’)—and there is every prospect that the violence will get worse as the political season moves into full swing.  Indeed, it seems that political violence is in the process of being normalized in this country. To understand the roots of this malign phenomenon, I think it is important to look at what has been going on in America’s universities for the past decade and a half.
In 2002, a pro-Israel event at San Francisco State University was interrupted by ‘protestors’, screaming things like “go back to Russia!” and “get out or we will kill you!’ and shoving Hillel students against a wall.  Laurie Zoloth, a campus Jewis leader “turned to the police and to every administrator I could find and asked them to remove the counter demonstrators from the Plaza, to maintain the separation of 100 feet that we had been promised. The police told me that they had been told not to arrest anyone, and that if they did, ‘it would start a riot.’  I told them that it already was a riot.”
“This is the Weimar Republic with Brownshirts it cannot control” is how Professor Zoloth summed up the situation on her campus.
This kind of Brownshirt behavior at an American university was by no means an isolated incident: there have been many, many cases of intimidation, vandalism, and outright violence being employed against campus groups and speakers which some people–those people being almost always self-defined ‘progressives’–do not like.
At St Cloud University in Minnesota, for example, the College Republicans had a kiosk supporting Israel, complete with Israeli flag.  Two professors approached the booth and asserted that since the members of the group were not Jewish, they had no right to fly the Israeli flag!  One of the professors told a students that she would break his camera if he took her picture, and then tried to grab the camera–also, according to this report, also grabbed the student by the neck and slammed him up against the wall.  The university administration backed the professors, also asserting that non-Jews have no right to fly the Israeli flag.  (The real issue, I’m pretty sure, wasn’t that the students were non-Jewish, but rather that they were Republican.)
At Yale in 2002, some students had set up a memorial to victims of a car bombing in Israel.  The memorial was destroyed by vandals. A week earlier, at the same university, a petition opposing divestment (ie, withdrawal of pension fund investments from companies doing business in Israel) was defaced–in the law school.
Theft of newspapers containing unapproved viewpoints has become common at universities. In 2004, the entire press run of the Yale Free Press, a conservative publication, was stolen by people who did not want Yale students to be able to read the opinions contained therein.
In Florida in 2004, a social sciences instructor at a community college walked into local Republican headquarters and punched a cardboard cutout of George W Bush…and then, according to this report, also punched a Republican official in the face.  The punchee reports that the assailant “proceeded to say how he had a Ph.D., and he was smarter than me. I’m a stupid Republican,” and other comments laced with obscenities.
In 2006, “Protestors” of the Brownshirt variety attempted to disrupt a scheduled speech by Congressman Tom Tancredo. The chairman of the campus organization that had sponsored the event was kicked and spat upon by some of the thugs, and the building fire alarms were pulled twice.
Also in 2006, at Columbia University, left-wing students distrupted a speech hosted by the College Republicans. Angry students stormed the stage, shouting and knocking over chairs and tables and succeeding in their intent to prevent Jim Gilchrist (founder of the anti-illegal-immigration group known as the Minuteman) from delivering his talk. Columbia Public Safety did nothing to prevent the disruption. Christopher Kulawik, the College Republican president, told The New York Sun he was berated afterward by Columbia University administrators for allowing the speakers to say anything that would infuriate the crowd.
A week later, Columbia administrators interfered with another event planned by the College Republicans. The scheduled speaker was Walid Shoebat, a former PLO terrorist who saw the error of his ways and is now a supporter of Israel and the U.S. Just 3 hours before the event was to take place, a Columbia administrator sent an e-mail uninviting many of those who had already RSVP’d for the event–some of whom were already in transit. Apparently, Columbia was afraid of a repetition of the earlier disruption, and preferred to deny legitimate attendees their right to hear Mr Shoebat speak, rather than to take effective action against thuggishness by beefing up security and expelling disrupters.
In 2008, Robert Spencer spoke at U Wisconsin-Madison, on the subject of the thread from jihad.  He says:
I got off the phone a little while ago with one of the student organizers of my address tonight at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He told me that I would be led to and from the stage via secret passageway; that thirty security personnel would be on hand (in addition to my own); that attendees would have to pass through metal detectors; and that a bomb-sniffing dog would also be on hand…and also: The Rushdiean security precautions and these warnings were all necessary because of the fascist tactics of trying to intimidate and shout down opponents that students and others at UWM have employed in the past against speakers such as David Horowitz. 
In 2003, former Israeli cabinet minister Natan Sharansky visited several US campuses:
When I got to Rutgers University in New Jersey last month, I almost forgot I was on a college campus. The atmosphere was far from the cool, button-down academic reserve typical of such institutions. It was more reminiscent of a battlefield…Things were not much calmer at Boston University: An anonymous bomb threat brought swarms of police to the lecture hall and almost forced a cancellation of my appearance. But here, too, some good resulted when the bomb threat caused the lecture to be moved to a larger hall, which was quickly filled with some 600 listeners who were unwilling to accept the violent silencing of pro-Israel views.
and
During a frank and friendly conversation with a group of Jewish students at Harvard University, one student admitted to me that she was afraid — afraid to express support for Israel, afraid to take part in pro-Israel organizations, afraid to be identified. The mood on campus had turned so anti-Israel that she was afraid that her open identification could cost her, damaging her grades and her academic future. That her professors, who control her final grades, were likely to view such activism unkindly, and that the risk was too great.


Having grown up in the communist Soviet Union, I am very familiar with this fear to express one’s opinions, with the need to hold the “correct opinions” in order to get ahead, with the reality that expressing support for Israel is a blot on one’s resume. But to find all these things at Harvard Business School? In a place that was supposed to be open, liberal, professional? At first I thought this must be an individual case, particular to this student. I thought her fears were exaggerated. But my conversations with other students at various universities made it clear that her feelings are widespread, that the situation on campuses in the United States and Canada is more serious than we think. And this is truly frightening.
continued at Chicago Boyz

8:36 AM

Monday, July 04, 2016  
SHALL IT BE SUSTAINED?

See my Fourth of July post at Chicago Boyz

5:20 AM

Sunday, July 03, 2016  
MERS-EL-KEBIR
One of the many tragedies of the World War II era was a heartbreakingly fratricidal affair known as the Battle of Mers-el-Kebir.
I’ve written before about the defeat of France in 1940 and the political, social, and military factors behind this disaster. Following the resignation of Paul Reynaud on June 16, the premiership was assumed by the First World War hero Philippe Petain, who immediately asked the Germans for an armistice.  With an eye toward revenge, Hitler chose the Forest of Compiegne…the same place where the armistice ending the earlier war had been executed…as the venue for the signing of the documents. Indeed, he insisted that the ceremonies take place in the very same railroad car that had been employed 22 years earlier.
The armistice provided that Germany would occupy and directly control about 3/5 of France, while the remainder of the country, together with its colonies, would remain nominally “free” under the Petain government. (One particularly noxious provision of the agreement required that France hand over all individuals who had been granted political asylum–especially German nationals.)
Winston Churchill and other British leaders were quite concerned about the future role of the powerful French fleet…although French admiral Darlan had assured Churchill that the fleet would not be allowed to fall into German hands, it was far from clear that it was safe to base the future of Britain–and of the world–on this assurance. Churchill resolved that the risks of  leaving the French fleet in Vichy hands were too high, and that it was necessary that this fleet join the British cause, be neutralized, be scuttled, or be destroyed.
The strongest concentration of French warships, encompassing four battleships and six destroyers, was the squadron at Mers-el-Kebir in French Algeria. On July 3, a powerful British force under the command of Admiral James Somerville confronted the French fleet with an ultimatum. The French commander, Admiral Jean-Bruno Gensoul, was given the following alternatives:
(a) Sail with us and continue the fight until victory against the Germans.
(b) Sail with reduced crews under our control to a British port. The reduced crews would be repatriated at the earliest moment.
If either of these courses is adopted by you we will restore your ships to France at the conclusion of the war or pay full compensation if they are damaged meanwhile.
(c) Alternatively if you feel bound to stipulate that your ships should not be used against the Germans unless they break the Armistice, then sail them with us with reduced crews to some French port in the West Indies — Martinique for instance — where they can be demilitarised to our satisfaction, or perhaps be entrusted to the United States and remain safe until the end of the war, the crews being repatriated.
If you refuse these fair offers, I must with profound regret, require you to sink your ships within 6 hours.
Finally, failing the above, I have the orders from His Majesty’s Government to use whatever force may be necessary to prevent your ships from falling into German hands.
The duty of delivering this ultimatum was assigned to the French-speaking Captain Cedric Holland, commander of the aircraft carrier Ark Royal.
Among the ordinary sailors of both fleets, few expected a battle. After all, they had been allies until a few days earlier.
Robert Philpott, a trainee gunnery officer on the battleship Hood:  ”Really it was all very peaceful. Nobody was doing any firing; there was a fairly happy mood on board. We all firmly believed that the ships would come out and join us. We know the French sailors were just anxious to get on with the war. So we didn’t think there would be a great problem.”
André Jaffre, an 18-year-old gunner on the battleship Bregagne:  ”Our officer scrutinizes the horizon, then looks for his binoculars and smiles.  What is it, captain?  The British have arrived!  Really?  Yes. We were happy!  We thought they’d come to get us to continue fighting against the Nazis.”
Gensoul contacted his superior, Admiral Darlan. Both men were incensed by the British ultimatum: Gensoul was also personally offended that the British had sent a mere captain to negotiate with him, and Darlan was offended that Churchill did not trust his promise about keeping the French fleet out of German hands. Darlan sent a message–intercepted by the British–directing French reinforcements to Mers-al-Kebir, and the British could observe the French ships preparing for action.  All this was reported to Churchill, who sent a brief message: Settle matters quickly. Somerville signaled the French flagship that if agreement were not reached within 30 minutes, he would open fire.
It appears that one of the the options in the British ultimatum–the option of removing the fleet to American waters–was not transmitted by Gensoul to Admiral Darlan. Whether or not this would have made a difference, we cannot know.
As Captain Holland saluted the Tricolor preparatory to stepping back into his motor launch, there were tears in his eyes. Almost immediately, Admiral Somerville gave the order to fire to open fire.
continued at Chicago Boyz




8:54 AM

Friday, July 01, 2016  
SOMME + 100

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.  The Telegraph is covering the events
as if in real time,  in a blog-like format, most recent posts at the top.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open


5:43 AM

Tuesday, June 28, 2016  
WORTHWHILE READING

No aesthetically-appealing photos or amusing stories today, I’m afraid, just some very serious links and excerpts.
The rockets of Hezbollah.  I knew they had accumulated considerable weaponry, but didn’t know it was this bad.
Kevin Williamson on  preventing jihadist violence
James Schall of Georgetown University on Orlando in hindsight:
The Orlando killer was not alone. He was a true believer and other believers in the mission of Islam inspire him. Neither he nor any of his predecessors or future companions are to be explained by psychology, economics, or sociology. They are to be explained by taking their word for what they are doing. If the President of the United States or the British Prime Minister, the media, the professors, the clerics, cannot or will not understand this reality, we cannot blame ISIS and its friends. They are also realists who understand where ideas and reality meet, sometimes on a battlefield in Iraq, sometimes in a night club in Orlando.
The Democrats as the American Totalist Party
Football player Herschel Walker reports that he has had speaking engagements canceled because of his support for Donald Trump.   Which is exactly the kind of action one would expect from members of a Totalist party.
Shortly before the Brexit vote, writer Frederick Forsyth wrote about the basic character of the EU:  Government by deception:
You have repeatedly been told this issue is all about economics. That is the conman’s traditional distraction. This issue is about our governmental system, parliamentary. Democracy versus non-elective bureaucracy utterly dedicated to the eventual Superstate.
Our democracy was not presented last week on a plate. It took centuries of struggle to create and from 1940 to 1945 terrible sacrifices to defend and preserve. 
It was bequeathed to us by giants, it has been signed away by midgets.
Now we have a chance, one last, foolishly offered chance to tell those fat cats who so look down upon the rest of us: yes, there will be some costs – but we want it back.
A former ‘big proponent’ of the EU has this to say:
To be fair, the EU’s main problem has always been its troubled relationship with democracy…This contempt for the will of the people might still be perceived as tolerable if the leaders otherwise seemed sensible – but now that someone as bad as Merkel calls the shots in EU, we’re reminded of just why having perpetual democratic safeguards is so important…the EU’s contempt for European voters and its current attempts to shut down dissenting voices bodes ill for its ability to course-correct on its own. If the EU is to be saved, it first needs to be humbled, nay, outright humiliated in such a manner that no-one can doubt that recent developments can’t be allowed to continue.
John Hussman  of Hussman Funds looks at Brexit from an economic and investing perspective:  Brexit and the bubble in search of a pin.  He quotes his own post from last month:
My impression is that the best way to understand the next stage of the current market cycle is to recognize the difference between observed conditions and latent risks. This distinction will be most helpful before, not after, the S&P 500 drops hundreds of points in a handful of sessions. That essentially describes how a coordinated attempt by trend-followers to exit this steeply overvalued market could unfold, since value-conscious investors may have little interest in absorbing those shares at nearby prices, and in equilibrium, every seller requires a buyer.
Imagine the error of skating on thin ice and plunging through. While we might examine the hole in the ice in hindsight, and find some particular fracture that contributed to the collapse, this is much like looking for the particular pebble of sand that triggers an avalanche, or the specific vibration that triggers an earthquake. In each case, the collapse actually reflects the expression of sub-surface conditions that were already in place long before the collapse – the realization of previously latent risks.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

4:38 AM

Monday, June 13, 2016  
WHEN SLEEP THE SENTINELS

When sleep the sentinels, ’tis the barbarian at the gate who strews their eyes with dreams.  Then are they vanquished by the desert, leaving the gates free to turn noiselessly on their well-oiled hinges so that the city may be fecundated when she has become exhausted and needs the barbarian.

Sleeping sentry, you are the enemy’s advance guard.  Already you are conquered, for your sleep comes of your belonging to the city no more, and being no longer firmly knotted to the city…And when I see you thus I tremble;  for in you the empire, too, is sleeping, dying.  You are but a symptom of its mortal sickness, for ill betides when it gives me sentries who fall asleep…

For if you no longer know that here a tree stands, then the roots, trunk, branches, leafage have no common measure.  And you can you be faithful when an object for your fidelity is lacking?  Well I know you would not sleep were you watching at the bedside of her you love.  But that which should have been the object of your love is dispersed into fragments strewn at random, and you know it no more.  Unloosed for you is the God-made knot that binds all things together.

–Antoine de St-Exupery,  Citadelle

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:24 AM

 
NO, THEY DON'T REALLY BELIEVE IN 'EQUALITY'

There was a bit of media coverage of Hillary Clinton choosing to wear a $12K Armani jacket while delivering a speech lamenting Inequality.  The price of this jacket, of course, represents an utterly trivial proportion of the wealth the Clintons have amassed from their lifetimes of Public Service.

This little incident serves to emphasize a point I made several years ago in my post Jousting With a Phantom:  leading ‘progressives’ for the most part 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 such an asset.

continued at Chicago Boyz

7:18 AM

Monday, June 06, 2016  
JUNE 6, 1944

Today, June 6, is the  72nd anniversary of the Normandy landings. See the Wikipedia article for an overview. Arthur Seltzer, who was there, describes his experiences.

Don Sensing points out that success was by no means assured: the pivot day of history.

Two earlier Photon Courier posts: before D-day, there was Dieppe and transmission ends.

See Bookworm’s post from 2012, and Michael Kennedy’s photos from 2007

A collection of D-day color photos from Life Magazine

Neptunus Lex:  The liberation of France started when each, individual man on those landing craft as the ramp came down – each paratroop in his transport when the light turned green – made the individual decision to step off with the only life he had and face the fire.

The Battle of Midway took place from June 4 through June 7, 1942. Bookworm attended a Battle of Midway commemoration event in 2010 and also in 2011: Our Navy–a sentimental service in a cynical society.

See also  Sgt Mom’s History Friday post from 2014.

General Electric remembers the factory workers at home who made victory possible.  Also, women building airplanes during WWII, in color and the story of the Willow Run bomber plant.

Also, a very interesting piece on  the radio news coverage of the invasion

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:33 AM

 
POWERING DOWN

Everyone is aware of Obama’s suppression of the Keystone XL pipeline project.  But the legal, regulatory, and PR assault against critical infrastructure construction goes far beyond this. WSJ reports that:

Many major fossil-fuel projects across the U.S., from pipelines to export terminals, have been shelved or significantly delayed because of a confluence of new regulations, grass-roots opposition and a drop in energy prices.  Overall, more than a dozen projects, worth about $33 billion, have been either rejected by regulators or withdrawn by developers since 2012, with billions more tied up in projects still in regulatory limbo.

Among the projects that the WSJ article identified as ‘cancelled’ were the $875MM ‘Constitution’ gas pipelines for the Northeastern US and the $3 billion “Northeast Direct” for the same region.
Natural gas is, of course, a major source for generating electricity, and the only practical way of getting the gas to the power plants is via pipeline.

(The CEO of New England’s power grid operator), said pipeline) projects are badly needed. Residential consumers in New York and New England paid between 5% and 41% more than the national average for natural gas in March, the latest month for which data were available. They also paid more for electricity, which itself is increasingly made with natural gas. 

continued at Chicago Boyz

7:28 AM

Monday, May 30, 2016  
MEMORIAL DAY 2016

A powerful and beautifully-done music video:  The war was in color

Neptunus Lex:  We remember them

Also from Lex:  A memorial day message from 2004

Update: Bookworm’s Memorial Day essay for this year is up at her site


cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

6:19 AM

Tuesday, May 17, 2016  

BOOK REVIEW: LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW? (rerun)
Hans Fallada



(I posted this review four years ago...given the continued economic difficulties faced by many Americans, and the political implications thereof, this seems like an appropriate time for a rerun)


I've often seen this 1932 book footnoted in histories touching on Weimar Germany; not having previously read it I had been under the vague impression that it was some sort of political screed. Actually it is a novel, and a good one. The political implications are indeed significant, but they're mostly implicit rather than explicit.


Johannes and Emma, known to one another as Sonny and Lammchen, are a young couple who marry when Lammchen unexpectedly becomes pregnant. Their world is not the world of Weimar's avant-garde artists and writers, or of its risque-to-outright-degenerate cabaret scene. It is far from the world of a young middle-class intellectual like Sebastian Haffner, whose invaluable memoir I reviewed here. Theirs is the world of people at the absolute bottom of anything that could be considered as even lower-middle-class, struggling to hold on by their fingernails.


When we first meet our protagonists, Sonny is working as a bookkeeper--he was previously a reasonably-successful salesman of men's clothing, working for the kindly Jewish merchant Mr. Bergmann, but a pointless quarrel with Bergmann's wife, coupled with a job offer from the local grain merchant (Kleinholz) led to a career change. Sonny soon finds that as a condition of continued employment he is expected to marry Kleinholz's ugly and unpleasant daughter, never an appealing proposition and one which his marriage to Lammchen clearly makes impossible. Lammchen is from a working-class family: her father is a strong union man and Social Democrat who sees himself as superior to lower-tier white-collar men like Sonny.


When Sonny and Lammchen set up housekeeping, their economic situation continually borders on desperate. Purchasing a stew pot, or indulging in the extravagance of a few bites of salmon for dinner, represents a major financial decision. An impulsive decision on Sonny's part to please Lammchen by acquiring the dressing table she admires will have long-lasting consequences for their budget.


The great inflation of Weimar has come and gone; the psychological damage lingers. Sonny and Lammchen's landlady cannot comprehend what happened to her savings:


Young people, before the war, we had a comfortable fifty thousand marks. And now that money's all gone. How can it all be gone?...I sit here reckoning it up. I've written it all down. I sit here, reckoning. Here it says: a pound of butter, three thousand marks...can a pound of butter cost three thousand marks?...I now know that my money's been stolen. Someone who rented here stole it...he falsified my housekeeping book so I wouldn't notice. He turned three into three thousand without me realizing...how can fifty thousand have all gone?

Inflation is no longer the problem, unemployment is. There are millions of unemployed, and those who do hold jobs are desperately afraid of losing them and will do anything to keep them.




continued at Chicago Boyz

9:41 AM

 
TV SERIES REVIEW:  "AMERICAN GENIUS"


Over at The Lexicans, Bill Brandt posted an item about an 8-part TV series titled 'American Genius'...it is about a selection of inventors and entrepreneurs who have had a major impact on technology, society, and history.  It sounded worthwhile and I've watched about half of the episodes--thanks, Bill!...definitely worth watching, but OTOH I think there are a few things in the series that should have been covered a little differently.


Edison vs Tesla is about the AC-vs-DC power wars, and correctly reports on the sleazy fearmongering tactics that Edison used in his unavailing attempt to maintain DC's dominance.  The show referred to George Westinghouse, who was Tesla's sponsor in this battle, as "sort of a railroad baron," completely ignoring the fact that Westinghouse was himself a major American inventor.  Most people would think of a 'railroad baron' as someone who owns or manages railroads, not someone who invented the air brake.


Farnsworth vs Sarnoff  is about the battle to dominate the emerging television industry.  It was presented as a David-versus-Goliath story--though Goliath was in this case named David (Sarnoff)--individual inventor versus ruthless tycoon.  Sarnoff was indeed ruthless, indeed could be fairly referred to as a prototypical crony capitalist...but it would have been interesting to point out that he wasn't always a Goliath, wasn't born to that position, but had in fact come to this country as an impoverished Russian Jewish immigrant and had encountered severe and career-threatening anti-Semitism on his path to Goliath-dom.


Space Race is focused on two individuals, the German/American Wernher von Braun and the Soviet rocket designer Sergei Korolev.  Korolev was played by an actor who looked a little too young for the role at the subject time period:  more importantly, it should have been mentioned that Korolev had been arrested and sent to the Gulag, where he lost most of his teeth due to the brutal labor-camp conditions.  There were psychological scars as well--Boris Chertok , who worked closely with Korolev for years, said that there was only one single time that he saw the man really happy.  In a series focused primarily on the leading characters and their conflicts rather than on technical details, these things deserved to be covered.


The program refers to a successful Soviet test in 1957 of a missile with intercontinental range, shortly before the launch of Sputnik.  Actually, the test was a failure because the warhead disintegrated on reentry...and reentry, while a critical factor for ICBMs, is not important at all for one-way satellite launches.  The American belief that Sputnik meant all of our cities were vulnerable to Soviet missiles was a little premature--not much.


I thought Wernher von Braun got off too easily in this program.  The show did mention that the V-2 missile was assembled by slave labor in an underground factory adjacent to a concentration camp: the truly horrific nature of V-2 manufacturing (this was possibly the only weapons system ever made that killed more people in its making than in its employment) could have gotten more emphasis, and the evidence is that von Braun was fully aware of what was going on in this place.


I'm also not convinced that von Braun was as absolutely critical to US missile and space programs as the show implies.  The program to build the Atlas missile, which was developed in roughly the same time period as Korolev's R-7, was directed by USAF General Bernard Schriever, with technology expertise provided largely by the newly-formed Ramo-Wooldgridge Corporation and by Convair.  I see no reason why this team could not also have conducted a Moon program, had they been so chartered.


The show does point out that von Braun, in addition to his technical and management contributions, played an important role in popularizing the ideas of rocketry and space travel...I had been unaware of his work with Disney to this end.  So, in addition to being a genuine rocket scientist (and, arguably, a war criminal in at least a moral sense), von Braun was also one of the great PR men of the century.


Again, with the omissions and missed opportunities, the series is still very much worth watching.


cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

9:34 AM

Thursday, May 12, 2016  
PUTIN, BUKOVSKY, AND NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY


Vladimir Bukovsky was prominent in the dissident movement within the old Soviet Union, and spent 12 years in prisons, labor camps, and psychiatric hospitals.  He has lived in Britain since the late 1970s, and has been a vocal opponent of Vladimir Putin, referring to Putin and his cricle as the heirs of Lavrenty Beria--Beria being Stalin's notorious secret-police chief.  Bukovsky also expressed the opinion that the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko (in Britain, by radioactive polonium) was done at the behest of Russian authorities.  So you can be pretty sure that Bukovsky isn't on Vladimir Putin's list of 10 favorite people.


Recently, Bukovsky has been charged with child pornography by British authorities.  Claire Berlinski believes that he was likely framed by the Russian regime.  (More from Claire here.)  It certainly seems quite possible that Putin's intelligence agencies planted the evidence on Bukovsky's computer, and I am happy that Claire is going to be further investigating this matter, which has received little attention from the legacy media.


I tend to believe that Claire is right and Bukovsky is innocent, though I have no way of putting probabilities on this at the moment.  I am also impressed by the logic of  Diana West's question:  "Is there a sentient person, naturally revolted by the thought of child pornography, even five or six images' worth, going to believe for one minute that the British state, for decades having turned the blindest and hardest and most craven of eyes against the sexual despoilment and prostitution of generations of little British girls at risk at the hands of criminal Islamic "grooming" gangs, has suddenly developed some compelling interest in protecting the welfare of children, and thus turned its avenging sword on ... Vladimir Bukovsky?"


Above and beyond this specific case--and it is extremely important to ensure that Bukovsky gets fair treatment by the British judicial system, which seems unlikely without considerable sunlight on the matter--there an overwhelmingly critical general issue involved here: that of national sovereignty. There is little question that Litvinenko was murdered at the behest of people in the Russian government.  There is no question at all that the ayatollahs running the Iranian government called for the murder of Salman Rushdie, a citizen of Britain, because they didn't like something he wrote.  There is no question at all that many imams throughout the Islamic world are calling for the murder of people in other countries, based on the opinions of those people, and there is no question at all that Iranian authorities are actively encouraging acts of violence against Israel.  And there is no question at all that German authorities are prosecuting a comedian for the 'crime' of insulting a foreign leader, at the behest of Turkish ruler Erdogan.


John Kerry, America's idiot secretary of state, recently talked to a group of college students about a borderless world, which he apparently either believes is inevitable or of which he actually approves.  But in the universe that actually exists, a borderless world is one in which foreign leaders and rabble-rousers can cause great harm to citizens of other nations, with the governments of those nations either unable or unwilling to protect them.


G K Chesterton is credited with the saying "Don't ever take a fence down until you know the reason why it was put up."  (ascribed to Chesterton by John F Kennedy--the actual Chesterton quote can be found here)  But I doubt if Kerry has ever read Chesterton, and also doubt that he is capable of understanding him if he did read his works.


Global interchange facilitates many good things, in trade, culture, and human connections:  it can also be a vector for bad things such as epidemics and cross-border murder and intimidation.  Cheerleading for a 'borderless world', without serious consideration of how to encourage the good and prevent the bad, is highly irresponsible.


At a bare minimum, each civilized government should ensure that any planned legal proceedings against its one of its citizens which appears likely to have been instigated by a foreign power should be carefully vetted before proceeding.  Each civilized government should also react very strongly to any call by a foreign government for the murder of one of its citizens or residents--ranging from trade sanctions up to the funding of the overthrow of the regime in question and continuing to, in extreme cases, military action.


Claire could use some additional contributions to assist with her work on the Bukovsky case; the link is here.


cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

9:15 AM

 
A NELECTED BUT SIGNIFICANT ANNIVERSARY


‘When the crocus blossoms,’ hiss the women in Berlin,
‘He will press the button, and the battle will begin.
When the crocus blossoms, up the German knights will go,
And flame and fume and filthiness will terminate the foe…
When the crocus blossoms, not a neutral will remain.’



(A P Herbert, Spring Song, quoted in To Lose a Battle, by Alistair Horne)


On May 10, 1940, German forces launched an attack against Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Few people among the Allies imagined that France would collapse in only six weeks: Churchill, for example, had a high opinion of the fighting qualities of the French army. But collapse is what happened, of course, and we are still all living with the consequences. General Andre Beaufre, who in 1940 was a young Captain on the French staff, wrote in 1967:


The collapse of the French Army is the most important event of the twentieth century.


If it’s an exaggeration, it’s not much of one. If France had held up to the German assault as effectively as it was expected to do, World War II would probably have never reached the nightmare levels that it in fact did reach. The Hitler regime might well have fallen. The Holocaust would never have happened. Most likely, there would have been no Communist takeover of Eastern Europe.


This campaign has never received much attention in America; it tends to be regarded as something that happened before the “real” war started. Indeed, many denizens of the Anglosphere seem to believe that the French basically gave up without a fight–which is a considerable exaggeration given the French casualties of around 90,000 killed and 200,000 wounded. But I think the fall of France deserves serious study, and that some of the root causes of the defeat are scarily relevant to today’s world.


First, I will very briefly summarize the campaign from a military standpoint, and will then shift focus to the social and political factors involved in the defeat.



continued at Chicago Boyz

9:09 AM

 
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